Jamal Idris needs just two words to make his intentions crystal clear. The new kid at Concord was asked by RLW if he can see himself returning to the Origin arena and earning selection in the Kangaroos World Cup squad next year.
While most players would deflect the question with a well-worn cliché like “I just want to focus on playing my best footy for the club”, Idris confidently replies, “Why not?”
It’s a strong indication he isn’t in Tigerland just to add a few zeroes to his bank account. He’s back because he’s ready to finally live up to all the expectations that have weighed him down since he made his debut for NSW as a 20-year-old with the Bulldogs.
So we ask him again. How good can Jamal Idris be?
“That’s the thing, that’s what I’m here to find out,” he grins.
“I guess I’ve done just about everything there is to do in the game and that was with me fighting against it the whole way.
“People try and turn you into something that you’re not and you sit there and you get to a point where you start running away from it . . . Now I’m here because I want to be here.”
When family tragedy combined with the relentless pressure of life in the limelight, Idris sought a release from the Panthers to explore the world.
“When you lose that many people in your family [his nan, pop and uncle] all at once and then you’ve got to sit there and decide what you want to do… if your heart’s not in it, it’s an easy decision to make,” he tells RLW.
“Over years and years I’ve always said ‘I’m here to have fun and if I’m not enjoying it I won’t play anymore’, and that’s what I did.”
So he played cricket in India, skied in Canada, visited family in Ghana and took in the sights of Europe – but all the while he knew he had unfinished business.
“It’s funny, it did my bloody head in seeing all these people say ‘Oh, you’re retired’, or I’m doing this and I’m doing that, but you know what, I never came out and told any news reporters that I’d retired – they assumed that. I just wanted the year off,” he reveals.
“The plan was always to come back but it was to come back on my terms. And you know what, if I didn’t feel I was right to come back for next year I wouldn’t have come back. Simple. I would’ve waited until the year after.
“I’m not going to be rushed by anyone but I thought the time was right. I was always coming back and now I’ve seen the world and learnt what I needed to learn about myself.”
The 26-year-old reckons it was about six months into his gap year that he really began to miss the game.
“It wouldn’t have been at the start of my trip, I’ll tell you that much. It was outstanding. But towards the middle of it, you start sitting there and you start missing a bit of structure and you think about the game and you miss playing.
“Then I remember I was up at Byron with some of my mates and my cousin and we were all out the back watching the first Origin. It was the first game I’d watched since I left. And my cousin looked at me and said ‘Do you miss it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I miss playing’.”
So Idris and his manager Sam Ayoub spoke with Wests Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe, who was in charge of Penrith during Idris’ time at the foot of the mountains, and agreed to a one-year deal.
“‘JP’ basically said big things are coming, and you can see they’re building something,” he says. “There’s a great young group here… Everyone wants to be here and they’re all excited.”
Lung-busting PT sessions under the watchful eye of The Biggest Loser’s Shannan Ponton have Idris in prime shape for pre-season training, and he’s champing at the bit for the season proper to arrive.
“I just want to play now… it’s just a long wait till March.”