Origin legend shares Maroons spirit in new way
There were few rugby league players in the 1990s who were as tough as Queensland great Jason Hetherington.
But since his retirement in 2002, the man who is famous for his larrikin ways and his laid-back, country attitude, has learnt the true meaning of tough.
From balancing several careers to coaching the first official women's Queensland Origin team to watching his wife, Kym, and sister, Lindyl, battle breast cancer, it has been a rollercoaster ride for Hetherington.
In part two of our series looking at where some of our greatest State of Origin stars are in 2020, Hetherington opens up on how he tackles every challenge and the inspiration he takes from his Maroon girls and his beloved family.
ALWAYS THE BOY FROM THE BUSH
Jason Hetherington's final two seasons of rugby league were played in one of the world's biggest cities.
After racking up over 100 games for the Canterbury Bulldogs, and proudly donning jerseys for Queensland and Australia, the successful No. 9 took off for the bright lights of London in 2001.
For two seasons he played with the UK-based Broncos, but it was a long way from home for a country boy.
As he revealed earlier this year, he even caused quite a stir in London when he joked that the best part of the city was the "departure gates at Heathrow".
But there was some truth to his quip, because when he walked through those departure gates to return to the Sunshine State, there was only one place the Baralaba-born Hetherington wanted to go - home.
"I've got a cattle property in the little town where I was born and bred, so when I came back from London, I went straight back there," he said.
"It was the plan to stay there but we only lasted for a little while because we realised the opportunities were limited for the kids.
"So we packed up and went over to Gladstone where there was more opportunity for sport, education and just a lot of facets of life.
"I still have the cattle property today. My Dad runs it. He's fitter than me. The kids still love going back out there."
While he had to leave Baralaba for his four kids, Hetherington has stayed in central Queensland for the past 18 years.
He lives in Rockhampton, works in Gladstone and takes his business all over the region.
A busy man, the 50-year-old has a number of operations on the go, including running his own business for the past 17 years, Hetherington's Truck Hire.
While he doesn't drive as much these days, he hires out his machines to civil companies or for anyone who needs potable water during droughts.
He also works for Gladstone Ports Corporation as an operator, exporting coal from all around the world - funnily enough working with fellow former Origin great and his 1998 Queensland teammate, Gary Larson.
"You have two thirds of the Queensland front row in there," he said.
But his greatest passion still relates back to rugby league.
While he remains true to his country roots, Hetherington has spent the past two decades drifting in and out of coaching the game he loves so much.
One of the highlights was being part of Mal Meninga's Queensland staff during the team's incredible dynasty from 2006 onwards.
"I'm one of the lucky ones that's had the opportunity to stay involved with footy for a long period of time," he said.
"If you ask most ex-footballers, they'd want to be part of the game and involved in one way or the other. Coaching is my way."
Hetherington has also coached the under-18s team in Gladstone and the Central Queensland Capras in the Intrust Super Cup.
But up until 2018, Hetherington had only coached boys and men.
That was until the Queensland Rugby League started advertising for a coach for their female team ahead of the first official women's State of Origin.
PASSING ON THE QUEENSLAND SPIRIT
Hetherington had never coached women before, but when he saw the QRL were on the hunt, it was a challenge he wanted to take on.
He's held the position since 2018 and it's been an eye-opening experience for Hetherington - but also one of the best in his career.
"For me, it was about the opportunity to coach again and the challenge of coaching women," he said.
"I've certainly learned a lot but it's very enjoyable. It's a pleasure and honour to have that role. I would do anything to do with that Maroon, even if it was something like darts, it doesn't matter."
The bonus for the state's top female players in having Hetherington as their coach is his ability to pass on that knowledge of what it means to wear the Queensland jersey.
FOG No. 106 - and the 1999 Queensland player of the series - Hetherington is assisted by former women's players Karyn Murphy and Nat Dwyer, as well as team manager, Jo Barrett.
With Queensland legend Trevor Gillmeister also used as a defensive coach pre-COVID, it's not hard to pass on that mighty Maroons passion.
"It's got a great theatre about it, Origin," he said.
"It's not that hard to teach them about the meaning of Origin, but I do reinforce it. It's very important that the girls understand the history of Origin.
"But they're creating their own history now. I just march along with them."
For Hetherington, the highlight of his eight-game Origin career was the moment he found out he was going to wear the Queensland jersey for the first time and it's a moment he tries to make just as special for the women.
"My neighbour actually heard it on the radio and came running across the road to tell me," Hetherington said of his selection in 1998.
"I'll never forget the way it unfolded. That's the moment when you find out all your dreams have come true.
"It's a real strong moment for the women too. It's a moment they'll never, ever forget. They've been dreaming, striving hard, working hard."
And while this is Hetherington's third year in charge of the Queensland women, he is yet to taste success.
But the Maroons are facing their best chance for victory this year, with Queensland to host the interstate clash for the first time on November 13 at Sunshine Coast Stadium.
They've come so close to beating NSW in the past two years and Hetherington believes a home crowd advantage could be the trick to get them over the line.
"They'll get to play in front of a sea of Maroon," he said.
"The atmosphere at North Sydney Oval the past two years has been great but it's a hell of a lot of blue for the girls.
"They put on a really good show and now it's time to do it at home."
THE FAMILY MAN
Away from all his official duties, Hetherington's favourite roles are that of father and husband.
Married to wife Kym for the past 25 years, they share a special relationship that has only been made stronger by her battle with breast cancer since 2013.
She was first diagnosed with cancer in her right breast before receiving the heartbreaking news that it had returned in her left breast in 2016.
Just a year earlier, Hetherington had lost his sister, Lindyl, to the disease and he said it was the hardest period of his life watching two women he loved battle cancer.
"It was a really tough period," he said.
"Not only did my wife have it, but my sister had it as well. While I was in the oncology ward, I had my wife on one side and my sister on the other side.
"My sister didn't make it. She was only 48.
"It was really tough because you still have to live life and go to work. Everything just can't stop, unfortunately. The banks don't care whether they've got cancer or not.
"You have to keep working and keep supporting your family and moving forward."
Kym is now in remission and is undergoing the reconstruction phase, which Hetherington said will be complete by mid-January.
Together the couple have raised four children - twins Kobe and Zac, 21, daughter, Laynii, 20, and youngest son, Eli, 16.
Eli is set to start grade 12 at The Cathedral College Rockhampton next year while Sunshine Coast-based Laynii is studying Occupational Therapy.
The twins meanwhile are following in their Dad's footsteps with Kobe working towards an NRL debut at the Brisbane Broncos and Zac set to play for the Ipswich Jets in the Intrust Super Cup next year.
"Everyone says, 'geez, your boys are tough'," Hetherington said of the twins.
"But they didn't get it from me. They got it from their mother."
WHAT THE GIRLS HAVE TO SAY
"I have always loved watching State of Origin and I was in grade 11 when Jase debuted for Queensland. He was a tough, solid bugger and you could see his 'take-no-sh*t' attitude on the field. Since he's started coaching us, it's been a real pleasure getting to know Jase. I have a great relationship with him. I don't know whether it's a country thing or that it's just because we love a Bundy rum together and could talk all day about all sorts of things. He's extremely knowledgeable when it comes to footy and definitely knows rugby league. He's a top bloke and it's been a privilege to be coached by Jase the last couple of years. He has made them very memorable."
- Steph Hancock, Queensland Origin forward, hailing from Killarney and Warwick
"Jase is so laid-back, has such a country-style and is so relaxed. He comes in and nothing fazes him. He brings everything back to earth for us. He's very much old school, which is really refreshing. As much as the game has changed, he definitely brings those old school values and behaviour. And he's Queensland through and through. Us girls have our own culture and get everything about playing for Queensland but he still brings that 100 per cent Queenslander mentality with him into everything we do.
"He always talks about his family. He's very proud of his family.
"He's also a bit of a larrikin and loves his jokes. We're staying at Novotel Twin Waters for this camp and there's a lake here. We all have Queensland face masks but he told us he thinks it's his mankini. We're looking outside our window at the lake every day hoping he's not outside in his face mask.
"He's always looking for practical jokes but when he needs to be serious, he is. He's definitely here for business and to get the job done."
- Karyn Murphy and Nat Dwyer, former players and Hetherington's assistant coaches
"He's the champion of giving out nicknames and his one-liners and stories ensure there's never a dull moment in camp. His own experience as an Origin staff member inspires the staff as well as the players and his passion for Queensland is infectious. He's a really good combination of relaxed and fun but serious when it's called for. He's cheeky with a sharp wit but has always got a positive outlook. In camp he's often telling me to sit down and relax and he took to calling me "bush turkey" for always "scratching around and never sitting still". We'd known each other for about five minutes when he started that and it's lucky I have a sense of humour. I find it frighteningly accurate and equally hilarious. I just really hope Queensland get a win for him and we can enjoy that on Friday. He's shown a lot of commitment and travelled some huge miles back and forth from Baralaba for this team."
- Jo Barrett, former player and women's team manager
Originally published as Origin legend shares Maroons spirit in new way