It wasn’t long ago that Jackson Hastings was crying himself to sleep in the fear that his Rugby League career was over before it had hardly begun.
Hastings had been axed by Manly after making, in his own words, a ‘stupid’ decision that escalated into a media frenzy in Australia.
But he was thrown a lifeline by Salford. Little did he know at the time that decision would result in his life, and his career, changing for the better.
A year that started with him fearing for his career ended with him being paraded around the pitch as a hero at his new club.
It’s a move that has caught the Australian out by surprise, but one that he’s embraced with both hands.
“I’m just a kid from Australia who’s stuffed up a few times and landed in Salford,” he said.
“I’m trying to repay the faith of the club by performing at my best every single week but also by being good with the fans. Some of the scenes from last year will be something I’ll take with me forever. I was in budgie smugglers and a skins top for crying out loud. Those pictures will be there for life.
“I thought I may not play professional rugby league ever again. When you sign a player you look at their past and I understood with one silly decision I could have thrown everything away. I had sleepless nights, nights I’d start crying for the simple fact I loved Rugby League and I almost chucked it all away all down to myself.
“I’d never broken curfew before, it’s just a dumb error, it’s immaturity really. That’s what bugs me the most, it was an easy decision to avoid but once alcohol comes involved in thinking, you know how it ends. It was so avoidable, that’s what leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”
Hastings has now started to resurrect his career, but, unlike others, is determined to make sure he never makes the same mistake again.
The 23-year-old is open about his challenges and seeking out professional help to manage them.
Even now, despite his stunning displays in Salford colours, he’s still seeking that help to ensure he continues to perform at the levels that saw him set the scene alight.
“I had to look myself in the mirror and get the correct people around me willing to help but not just be interested in me as a player but a person.
“I’d never had that before. I found out real quick who my mates were and who wanted to see me do well and my wellbeing.
“It wasn’t just trying to dodge the bullet, I went and got professional help from people who know who to handle certain situations. The situation I was in was blown right out of proportion and into something it didn’t need to be. But I needed help pretty bad. The RLPA back in Australia, Ian Pendergast and Clint Newton are two people I’m extremely grateful for and I’m thankful for their help because without them I’d be in a pretty bad way.
“Even to this day, Sporting Chance are helping me not make the same mistake and stay in the mindset to perform at my peak every week.
“I’m extremely grateful to Salford Red Devils for the love and the opportunity they’ve given me.”
But Hastings insists his story isn’t one of redemption. It’s simply about being able to do the thing he loves the most.
“I don’t want to look back at my career and see people write that I was that dumbass kid who made stupid decisions, I want people to talk about me in a positive light and as a guy who achieved everything he could but also gave everything back to the game that he could.
“You’re only privileged for so long while you’re playing and I understand the role we can play in someone’s life who isn’t as fortunate as us. I want to be a positive role model and have a positive impact on other people. That doesn’t last forever, unless you’re an all-time great people don’t really care once you’ve gone. But if I can leave something behind, particularly in Salford, that will be job done.
“It’s about showing people the true Jackson Hastings.”
So far, Hastings has done just that. His outstanding performances on the field, coupled with his generosity and goodwill off it, have quickly turned him into one of the competition’s poster boys and Salford’s own darling.
But he’s adamant there’s far more to come.
“I’m expecting myself to go up another level really,” he said.
“We’re being labelled the whipping boys, which is fair enough, it’s easy to put London and Salford as the bottom two. It’s hard to avoid those things but I was looking at our squad and some of the names in it, you look at it and it’s a handy side featuring players who have played in Grand Finals and Challenge Cup Finals.
“It’s exciting to be written off every week because you have a chip on your shoulder because you understand teams think they’ll walk all over you. The goal is to win more games than we lose and prove more people wrong.
“It doesn’t matter where you are it’s how you approach it. You can be in the best team in the comp but you might not perform at your best because you don’t see as much of the footy. I think it all comes down to how I approach it. If you’re willing to put in the hard work and build your combinations, there’s no reason why you can’t go to that next level.”
Hastings has made no secret of his desire to one day return to the NRL.
With his contract set to expire at the end of the year, there is a general feeling of inevitability that should he perform again this year, it will be his last in Super League.
“That’s not the case one bit.
“I think I’d be doing it an injustice if after everything I’ve said I was thinking about what I’m doing in the future. If I didn’t put all my eggs in one basket it would be unfair on myself and the club. They know my ambitions and understand where I want to be eventually, but they also know that I’m going to give everything I can this year and put them in a position to play in all the big games.”