Charlie Jones is 80 minutes from a fairytale
“DATE with destiny” is something of an hackneyed cliche these days - but it’s still the best way to describe how United States utility Charlie Jones feels about thus weekend’s World Cup qualifier against Cook Islands.
Jones was born to be what is known down under as a “footy star”. As a rookie he played for the Australian Institute Of Sport, he was on the Gold Coast Titans’ books, even captained Thailand in their first ever international.
Then at the end of one season, shoulder surgery meant he was unable to train for six months.
“Suddenly I was able to do things, go to weddings and all that,” the Jacksonville Axemen star recalls.
“I got on a plane to the Philippines for a mate’s wedding … and never came back. It was like a one-way ticket.
“This is life outside rugby league. I spent a month there. did some traveling around south-east Asia.”
Instead of going back to Australia and reviving his rugby league career, Jones took another leap of faith.
“I friend of mine had just started a business in Hollywood and he asked if I wanted to come over there. I thought it was a good opportunity, go check it out. I had 50 bucks in my pocket, stayed on his couch, came over.
“I started working for him.”
If that sounds too good to be true for a young fellow, here’s what the business was: taking tourists to nightclubs.
“Fifty to a hundred people, three nights a week, taking them out to all the nightclubs and bars,” he says. “It was like a bar crawl. It was like on the Gold Coast, that’s where we picked it up from. The Americans, they soaked it up.
“We built this crazy lifestyle. We had people from all over the world coming to work for us and also to party with us. It was awesome. It was just hard to explain to people back home just how crazy this experience was. I just continued it.”
Eventually, thinking that he shouldn’t give up on professional sport, Charlie Jones went back to Australia’s Gold Coast.
“I had a crack with the Queensland Cup. Then I did my right shoulder… and I was on the next plane back out to America!”
This time they started the nightclub business in … yes, Las Vegas.
“That’s when it all started. We hit up Vegas, we built this company in Vegas and we just never left.
“I started looking after all the athletes coming in from Australia - like the NRL teams that were on their Mad Mondays. A lot of the players I played with growing up were all playing NRL now.
“I knew a couple of boys in a few of the teams. A few wild nights. Then I met my wife in Vegas and got married. Ended up moving to Chicago and getting into real estate, which is what I do now.”
So what is Charlie Jones doing in Jacksonville? Simple: he’s completing a circle, answering a few ‘what ifs”. Having qualified for the Hawks through residency, he’s giving rugby league one last shot in the hope of going out on top, in a World Cup.
He got a taste of what’s in store at the World Cup Nines in October. “How about that eh?” He said after the Hawks led Australia in their pool match. “I left footy six years ago to go into business in America and to be back here playing on the world stage? You can’t beat it.
“I’m playing because … if I can get on the top stage, playing for America against the guys I grew up with, I can close that book and say ‘my rugby league career, done’.”
A Boys Own adventure is 80 minutes from becoming a fairytale.