You have to find a reason why
I had a bumpy time in 2016.
I missed out on a national rugby squad of 63 players and that was upsetting. Coaches want different things and I had put a lot of effort into trying to bend myself to what they wanted.
In one day I didn’t make the Australian team, left my job and was living in Sydney, far from home and struggling with the expense. I lost almost everything in that day and for a couple of weeks I didn’t want to do anything. It wasn’t until someone came to me and said, ‘you’ve got to keep that fire in your belly’, that I decided I want this.
So I started training on my own when the 63 girls went away to camp and did their testing. I got an awesome job at Scots College, where I’m still working, and my mood shifted. I felt I’d landed on my feet. I had a drive now and I knew what I wanted to achieve.
The day before the Wallaroos left, they called me and asked me to go on tour with them. From not being in the 63 and being completely down on myself to getting a chance – that opportunity was so scary but amazing. You’ve got to pull yourself out of those dark places and find a reason why.
I’m working at an all-boys school and it’s scary to see the pressures that boys that are coping with.
It is a strong sports school and a lot of the pressure is not just coming from themselves. I was so lucky growing up, my parents never pushed me to do anything.
That’s why I got to where I have, because they never put any pressure on that. There are boys that seem to struggle with that and some of that is a normal part of adolescence. Throw in selection issues and them wanting to play in the main team and it can be hard.
In the last year we put some social teams together, so the boys can play with their friends and try to take that pressure away. It’s been really rewarding for those kids and anything we can do to try and take away that pressure is important.
It’s just being more aware and involved to help these kids cope. Working out how we start the conversation to help them express their feelings and not see it as weakness.
The toughest man I know
As a kid, I never thought that I would grow up to be a rugby player. Sure, we are a rugby family. My dad John was president of NSW Junior Country Rugby and my brother played. I knew the rules before I was a toddler, but for me, back then, it was always a boy’s game.
I was involved in a lot of different teams and sports before rugby but I’ve never felt the camaraderie, the sportsmanship and the relationships you gain with your teammates at this level in any other sport. In rugby, you literally have to put your body on the line for the person next to you.
It’s a great game. It has pulled me out of a lot of dark times when I been struggling in my personal life. As soon as I’m training, my mind is just rugby and I’m not thinking about the other pressures.
The last year or so has been a little tough for myself and my family. My dad’s not doing very well.
He was diagnosed last October with melanoma in his brain and lungs. He had brain surgery and got rid of one tumour but more grew; we were told at the start of the year he wouldn’t have more than a few months to live – it’s incurable.
He’s a very social person, heavily involved in rugby. He is the reason I started playing rugby and everything in my life stems from him.
It’s something I never thought I’d lose. Never thought it would happen to me, my family.
Not me, he’s the toughest man I know.
Right now we are just setting goals. I told him he had to watch my SuperW Grand Final and my Test matches this year. He got to see me captain Australia. That was the most special moment I’ve had.
After the Test period, I went back and played for my club Sydney University and in the grand final thought this might be the last game he ever sees me play. It’s hard. But he held on this long, he held on to see my brother get married, my sister to have her second child, my first niece. It’s about setting little goals now.
I’ve mentally battled with that. But I’m playing rugby with my mates and that kind of little family I have makes it easier. I have a clear head and I can pull myself back into that situation and be present when I play and I’m thankful for that.
I love every aspect of it. Now it’s like I’m addicted to training and playing. I can’t seem to stop. It has been tough at times but it has brought me so much joy, so many special people and given me a different kind of outlook to many aspects of my life.
If this story has brought up strong feelings for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 46 or MensLine Australia on 1300 789 979.