The family pain behind rise of Payne Haas
PAYNE Haas's father has opened up about the Broncos star's turbulent year, revealing how their family ordeals have inspired his son's rise to Dally M glory and a maiden Australian jumper.
Speaking for the first time about their emotional roller-coaster, Gregor Haas said the tight-knit family had rallied around the sporting superstar - especially devoted mother, Joan Taufua, who woke up at 4am every day to make the hulking forward breakfast before training.
Amid Haas's remarkable on-field exploits that have seen led him to be labelled the NRL's best front-row talent in 20 years, he has endured a four-match suspension, been probed about two off-field incidents, and his mother made headlines for appearing in court on an assault charge.
"It's been hard for us all, but harder for my wife," Gregor told The Courier-Mail.
"All the criticism of our family this year took a toll.
"It's not easy to read and hear things about your son or your wife, but we've come to accept it, knowing we love each other as a family and we stick together.
"I know Payne's mum better than anyone, and what people see in the media of her is not the full story."
Haas capped a magnificent season with the Broncos last week by winning the NRL's rookie-of-the-year award and claiming his first green-and-gold jersey in a head-spinning seven days for the 19-year-old.
In March, the teenager was hit with a Broncos-imposed four-match suspension for failing to fully comply with the NRL integrity unit.
Haas was probed about two off-field incidents: one related to his mother's alleged involvement in a brawl at a junior league game last September, the other involving an alleged family domestic violence dispute.
When Haas failed to satisfy NRL integrity-unit investigators with his version of events, the Broncos condemned his conduct, wiping him out of the opening month of the premiership.
There was more pain to follow. In May, just weeks before his State of Origin debut for NSW, Haas's mother, Joan, was charged with assaulting a delivery driver.
Attending court wearing a NSW scarf, she pleaded guilty to the offence and was given a two-year jail term, only to be released on immediate parole because she, a mother of 10, is a full-time carer for her quadriplegic son, Haas's brother Chace.
Gregor lauded his son's ability to perform for the Broncos despite his off-field challenges.
He attended the Dally M awards in Sydney last Wednesday week to watch Haas become the first player in 25 years to both win the rookie gong and qualify for the team of the year.
"I'm so proud of Payne," Gregor said.
"My wife and I always knew in the back of our minds that Payne had the talent to play the NRL, but I didn't think he could achieve what he has this year.
"It was a big step up from playing state league a few years ago to the NRL. It's a bit mind-boggling for all of us how quickly Payne as developed.
"It was great to go with him to the Dally Ms ... it was great to get a taste of life as an NRL player. They have it pretty good."
While Gregor could understand why Haas was suspended for failing to fully comply with the NRL integrity unit, he also believed some family matters should remain private.
"It was a tough time for Payne at the start of the year," he said.
"The suspension really hurt him, but our family is our private life and Payne felt the need to defend that.
"I think anyone out there with family would understand that what happens in a family unit is their business.
"If anything, what happened (his Broncos ban) gave him more drive to succeed and when he was cleared to play in round five, he wanted to prove everyone wrong."
Last Monday, Haas was named in Australia's 19-man squad for upcoming Tests against New Zealand on October 25 in Wollongong before a showdown with Tonga at Auckland's Eden Park on November 2.
Should Haas be included in the final 17-man side to make his official Test debut, Gregor will be the proudest dad in the country. And Joan will be fortunate to see her son in the flesh in Australia colours, having narrowly escaped time behind bars.
"It's been hard for us all, but harder for my wife," Gregor said. "All the criticism of our family this year took a toll.
"It's not easy to read and hear things about your son or your wife but we've come to accept it knowing we love each other as a family and we stick together.
"I know Payne's mum better than anyone and what people see in the media of her is not the full story.
"It's not easy to raise a child with quadriplegia and Joan's love for our kids is amazing.
"Even now, she gets up at 4am to get breakfast ready for Payne before he goes to Broncos training.
"The hardest thing we've had to live with is the judgment. You walk down a shopping centre with Chace in a wheelchair and people stare. They constantly stare.
"Me and Joan don't work because we both look after Chace.
"We used to have nurses looking after Chace and I would never bag nurses, they are great people, but catering for Chace's needs is very high. He needs constant care so we decided to do it ourselves rather than rely on carers to look after Chace.
"Financially, it's a challenge. There's always people richer in the world but we are happy with our lives. We live a pretty simple life and look at the positives.
"No family is perfect and we're not perfect, but we love each other and do the best we can.
"Joan is a strong woman who will always love and support her children and that's why I love her."
The 118kg Haas, who has been picked for Australia after just 24 first-grade games, has been stunned by his meteoric rise. The monster prop only made his NRL debut for the Broncos 18 months ago.
"It's the highest honour you can get in rugby league, I'm really privileged and blessed to have been picked for Australia," Haas said.
"Playing for your country, any kid dreams about that and wearing the green and gold jersey.
"I used to watch some of other Australian players as a kid, so to now be playing alongside them is pretty special."