Slade Griffin - NRL - AthletesVoice
Slade Griffin - NRL - AthletesVoice


Carrying each other through the pain

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Carrying each other through the pain


I call it The Brotherhood.


Players, like me, who know what it’s like to go through the pain of tearing your ACL and how hard it is to come back. Once is bad enough. Twice, you think you might be cursed.  Three times, in my case, or even a fourth, which is what Tautau Moga is going through at Newcastle.


I’d played against Tautau, but I didn’t really know him until both of us joined the Knights this year. He got hurt in round four and it made me feel sick to think he had to go through all that again.


Tautau has just started coming back in at the club to do his rehab after the operation.


You’ve got to give a person in his situation a bit of space, but at the same time it’s good for him to know you’re in his corner, that he’s got a friend who understands what he’s going through.


We’ve learned a lot about mental health issues for players over the years. Fighting your way back from a serious injury like this is as much an emotional challenge as it is a physical one.


I felt worthless the first time I did my ACL at Melbourne. I was being paid to play football. I didn’t know anything else. What worth was I to the club?


I hadn’t even collided with anyone to get hurt. I was stepping and there was the loudest bang when my knee went. One of the boys out on the wing said he’d heard it.


I was in the showers, hiding my tears, when Frank Ponissi from the club came over and said, ‘Mate, don’t worry, we’re going to re-sign you. We’d never cut someone loose in your situation.’


And to their credit, they did re-sign me. I’ve seen them do it with Matt Duffie and Sandor Earl as well.


That meant the world to me, a guy who had just turned 21 and was yet to play first grade. All I’d ever wanted to do growing up in Greymouth, on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, was play footy.


The trainer at the Storm, Dan Di Pasqua, was there for me 24/7. I felt bad how much time he spent with me but that’s the guy he is. He was big on encouraging you to avoid self-pity and learn exactly what you were going through with the injury.


Not just routinely follow the instructions with your rehab, but get advice from other people who had gone through the same thing, develop your knowledge using the internet and figure out what works best for you.


Dan got me to talk to other guys at the Storm who’d been through it – Jason Ryles and Will Chambers. Some AFL players as well. I’m a big NFL fan, so I did some research on players there and watched a lot of YouTube videos.


I discovered that knowledge really is power.


I can think of a whole lot of other things I’d rather have experience at than recovering from knee recons, but if you can put that experience to good use for the benefit of others, then that’s a positive.


I’ve talked to Sandor and Christian Welch and other guys at the Storm who have done their knees. It’s hard to know what to say at first, because you know it’s a really awful injury and you don’t want to downplay the pain you know they’re going through. But, at the same time, you want to let them know there’s a way back if you do the work.


Some of my old teammates at the Storm have got me to talk to their friends at other clubs who were going through it and I had a good chat with them. Other players have rung me off their own bat, just to talk.


As soon as I hear of a player doing his ACL, regardless of which club he’s at or whether I know him or not, I feel for him.


What if a player does it in a year when he’s coming off contract? The great unknown that lies ahead can be very confronting.


Recovering from the injury and getting all the support you need to do that is the first thing.


That’s where The Brotherhood can help.





My mum, Debra, did all she could to make my dream of becoming an NRL player come true. Mum had travelled the east coast of Australia as a young woman and met an Aussie man she married, but that didn’t work out.


I was named after Slade, the British rock band from the 1970s. Lock Up Your Daughters and all that. I’ve listened to a few songs – not bad. Mum liked them.


It’s a cool name, Slade. I’m happy with it.


Mum worked hard to bring up three kids on her own and in her spare time she was my local footy team’s manager.


When I was 16 I got the chance to play rep footy for Canterbury, but that meant driving from Greymouth to Christchurch for training on Thursday nights and again for games on Saturdays. It was a six-hour round trip, but mum did it.


We’d get home about one in the morning and a few hours later mum would be up again to get ready for work and I’d go to school.


The drive to Christchurch was through the mountains and it was often snowing. One Saturday there was black ice on the road and we spun off down a slope and ended up in a creek. I missed that game.


That was an important year for me, to get noticed. A year later, I had offers from the Warriors, Cronulla and Melbourne and I picked the Storm because I thought they had the best coaches.


But I was still a naive kid from a country town in New Zealand and when I got a letter in October, 2008, to say pre-season training started in 17 days, it was a bit of a shock.


Pre-season training at the start of November and the comp doesn’t start until March? I had to sort everything out in a hurry, get over there and do my last month of high school via correspondence.


The standard at training blew me away. Not so much the fitness stuff – I was always a good trainer – but the skill level of the players.


I knew I’d have to lift that part of my game and I did. I got player of the year in SG Ball and spent the rest of my first year in the under 20s. After three years of under-20s and NSW Cup, I was pushing for a first-grade spot. I could play lock as well as hooker, so I was a chance for the bench behind Cameron Smith.


But then came that first ACL tear, to my right knee.


I felt worthless the first time I did my ACL at Melbourne. I was being paid to play football. I didn’t know anything else. What worth was I to the club?


I wouldn’t say I sank into a full-on depression, but I was frustrated and disappointed and in a slump. I like to think I’m pretty mentally tough, but this was hard because the timing of it meant the whole season was a write-off.


All of a sudden, what you love doing most with your mates is taken away by something that’s out of your control. You can’t help thinking ‘this is the end’.


But I managed to fight my way through it and, in 2013, I made my first-grade debut.


Worse was to come, though, when I did my left knee in 2014, playing NSW Cup, and again the following year, playing Queensland Cup. Three recons in four years.


I got through it, but I wouldn’t have been able to without all the wonderful love and support from my mum, my brother Jim and sister Cally, my partner Grace and her marvellous family, and the awesome encouragement provided by Dan at the Storm.


I vowed not to let it finish me. And it didn’t.





I’ve been blessed to have people like Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith in my life.


On our first day in the under 20s, Craig came in and made a speech I’ve always remembered.


‘The harder you work, the luckier you get.’


There’s nothing truer in sport.


Craig expects a lot of you on the field and, if I missed with a pass at training, he’d give me one of those classic Bellamy sprays. His view was that if you do it at training you’re going to do it in games, so practise it over and over again until you get it right.


He understands the game so well and he’s realistic. He coaches his team to be the best, but if the other team is better on the day he’ll admit they were — like he did when the Dragons beat the Storm recently and he said the Dragons were the benchmark. He’s got a lot of class.


But he can have a joke as well and, when he walks past you at the club, he’ll deliver a line he’s come up with. He’s old school.


I was still starstruck by Smithy until I was 23 or 24. I shouldn’t have been, because he’s so down-to-earth, but I was in awe of him really. 


He’s such a good leader, the way he talks to the boys. He doesn’t scream at you, he respects you and looks you in the eye. Everyone believes in what Smithy thinks and he’s usually right.


So that’s what it feels like.. Too good boys. Till next time

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It’s a fantastic culture down there and I’m ecstatic I was able to go to a club like that and grow into a man under their values.


My last game for the Storm was in a grand final and I won a premiership ring. I couldn’t have left the club on better terms.


I knew in the week before the finals that I was joining the Knights. I told the rest of the boys, but I didn’t want to cause any distractions so I didn’t say anything in the media until after the game.


The Storm had made me an offer, but I had a couple of chats to Craig Bellamy and the club was really happy for me to take up the opportunity at Newcastle.


It wasn’t about money, it was the chance to be the starting hooker and Smithy wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.


I was still starstruck by Smithy until I was 23 or 24. I shouldn’t have been, because he’s so down-to-earth, but I was in awe of him really. 


I came on with about 15 minutes to go in the grand final against North Queensland. I was on the field at the end, which was really cool.


Two of my closer mates, Dale Finucane and Tim Glasby, were on the field at fulltime as well, so I got to share it with them. I played juniors with a lot of the other guys in the team, including Kenny and Jesse Bromwich, and I’d been around Smithy a lot.


It was the perfect way to go out.


We had Richie McCaw come in that week and talk to us. We’d only lost four games all year and he talked about the expectations the All Blacks faced, since they’re always expected to win, and how they handled that.


He told us to just be confident in ourselves, because imagine what the other team is thinking coming up against us. Don’t think about losing, look them in the eye, play how you’ve been playing and back yourself.





I want to become a leader at Newcastle.


I’m 27 and I believe I’m entering the best years of my football life. The club’s in a great position with the players they’ve signed, like Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce. There’s a really strong foundation and good times are ahead.


I love the city, it suits me perfectly. It’s like a bigger version of Greymouth. The coastal lifestyle is great and I’m getting back into surfing, at Merewether and Dixon Park.


When the waves are callin’ #thatwhitewashsound @barrelboys_

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When I first came to Newcastle to talk about possibly playing here, it was explained to me that they were looking for good people as well as good footy players. I like that approach.


I understand the importance of the team’s relationship with the fans. The Knights had three straight wooden spoons but still attracted the fourth or fifth-best home crowds during that time. They’re proud and very encouraging and I wanted to feel that support.


Nathan Brown, as an ex-hooker, is great for me as coach. Defence is a strong part of my game and he’s been bouncing ideas about defensive structures off me. He’s approachable and open for a chat and I love that.


It was hard to leave my friends and move after nine years in Melbourne, especially asking my partner Grace to leave her friends and job to support me, but I’m very grateful and wouldn’t have accomplished what I have without her.


My mum’s living here with Grace and I at the moment, so it feels a bit like home. Mum had a bad injury about a year ago, a massive electric shock from a fuse box that blew out her wrist, and she’s got ongoing problems with that. So it’s good to have her nearby, where I can help her.


I don’t think about my knees now. I haven’t had any problems with either of them for three years and I’ve had some big hits during that time that have tested them out. That gives you faith that they’re really solid.


I’ve been dealt some tough cards with injuries, but I’ve still won a grand final and now I’ve got the chance to be part of something special at the Knights over the next few years.


If my story can inspire one player to not give up when he gets a serious injury, I’ll be a happy man.





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