His time at the Broncos did not end well as well as he would have liked, but for Newcastle Knights centre Dane Gagai, he has no plans to fail under coach Wayne Bennett – attributing his revival as a person and a player, to team-mate Willie Mason.
Gagai found his career on the ropes just a few short months ago, when he had his newly signed contract with the Broncos torn up by Broncos coach Anthony Griffin, following a string of disciplinary breaches at Red Hill.
Handed a second tier NRL deal, the equivalent of just $40,000, Gagai has found a new home in Newcastle, a part of the club’s resurgence in the last month – crediting not only Bennett for his own success, but also Willie Mason.
“Willie Mason has been awesome, he’s been a real mentor,” Gagai says. “He’s really looked out for me since I’ve come here, as has Danny Buderus.
“I’ve only been here a short time, but Willie is the guy that has helped me settle in.
“We go for dinner and have good chats. He’s a larger-than-life sort of character who speaks his mind but he’s been good for me. He’s really enthusiastic. Every club really needs a person like him.
“Obviously he has had a bit of history and a rough past but he’s grown up a lot and knows what you can and can’t do in this game.
“Willie pretty much makes sure I learn from some of his mistakes, which means a lot.”
Whilst Gagai was not involved in any major indiscretions during his time at the Broncos, his demise at the club came after he missed a string of training sessions, and with Gagai chased by a few clubs, it was the allure of working under Bennett, that convinced him Newcastle was the place for him.
“I’d only seen him on TV and he seemed like an angry man so I was a bit nervous going into the first meeting,” Gagai recalls with a laugh. “Because I was moving, I had a stack of bags in my old BMW and he said, ‘Dane, I’ve never seen a BMW turned into a motorhome’.
“That made me laugh and straight away I had a different perspective of Wayne.
“He’s been great for me ever since. We had a big talk about what I wanted to achieve in league and I could see then his intentions were to help me.”
During his time at the Broncos, Gagai was uncertain as to where he could point the finger to – but he knows that it was his fault, that lead to his sacking.
“Obviously I was pretty shattered with what happened but I respected Hook’s (Griffin’s) decision. It was my fault,” he says.
“I wouldn’t say I lost my hunger or passion for footy.
“But sometimes you need to learn a lesson and I feel I have.”