WHEN Dane Gagai debuted for the Newcastle Knights five years ago, club legend Mark Hughes marked the occasion with a warm welcome, a good-luck handshake and the traditional jersey presentation.
Now Gagai has repaid the gesture by donating a treasured Queensland Origin jumper to raise funds for the Mark Hughes Foundation.
The jersey Gagai has offered for an online auction, to be run in conjunction with the foundation’s annual ball on Saturday at NEX (Wests City), is perhaps his most prized item of footballing memorabilia.
It was the same one he wore in game two last season, when he scored a hat-trick in Queensland’s 26-12 triumph against NSW at Suncorp Stadium.
“Dane called me out of the blue a few weeks ago and said he’d like to help the foundation, and he offered to donate one of his Origin jerseys,’’ Hughes told the Newcastle Herald.
“I was blown away when I found out it was his hat-trick jersey.
“It’s a pretty special jersey and I’ve had it framed up, so it’ll make a nice collector’s item for someone.
“I’ve had a bit to do with Dane since he joined the Knights and he’s grown into a great young fella.
“This is typical of the type of guy he is and I really appreciate his support.”
Hughes said Gagai’s generosity reminded him of last year, when champion halfback Johnathan Thurston donated his Anzac Test jersey for the foundation to auction.
The foundation was established to raise funds for brain-cancer research after Hughes – one of only five players to have featured in Newcastle’s 1997 and 2001 grand final wins – was diagnosed with the disease in 2013.
Saturday night’s function will be the foundation’s third fund-raising ball and tickets sold out within 10 minutes.
Other items up for auction include a framed NSW cricket shirt signed by Andrew Johns, a 2001 grand final rugby league ball signed by the entire Newcastle team, a Julian Wilson custom-made surfboard and tickets to the men’s and women’s tennis finals of next year’s Australian Open.
- LEAGUE HQ, PAGES 21-28