NEVER PLAYING ORIGIN FROM RESERVE GRADE
After that grand final I didn’t play another game for the Raiders. I changed clubs to get a jersey. I had the No. 23 in Canberra and I couldn’t crack into their forward pack. They were too durable and too good.
Sometimes you have to change clubs to get the jersey you need. After I left Canberra, I played nine State of Origin games, winning the 1991 series. I was never getting picked for Queensland from reserve grade.
I didn’t move for money, it was to change a No. 23 jersey to an No. 8 jersey. I went for two years with Western Suburbs and then signed with the Gold Coast Seagulls for the biggest contract of my life.
I’d signed on for $500 for the season in Canberra in 1986 (I made $1200 with bonuses) and in 1992 I signed a $170,000-a-year deal with the Seagulls.
AT 30 I WAS LOST
My career came to a premature end, and that was a very hard time for me.
I matured late. I hadn’t played first grade until I was 23 and I was 28 when I had to stop.
My mind was getting stronger but my body gave way on me. I had two prolapsed discs in my back that led to operations that ended my career early.
In my mind I was supposed to play until I was 32. When I retired suddenly, there was no light in the end of the tunnel. There was nothing.
The next four years were really tough. My whole life was rugby league and when I lost the game, I lost my wife, lost my job, pretty well hit the bottom. I went from the penthouse to the outhouse in a period of 12 months.
I was first married to a Canberra girl and that marriage ended after I retired. I had to scrape myself off the road, look all the challenges in the eye and come back.
I had to go back home to Mackay. I ran out of money. I made all the wrong choices. So at 30, I was lost.
I met a girl when I was 31 and she’s the mother of my four children and I bought my first business chicken shop and I haven’t looked back.
I was the problem in my first marriage. The time in football was a lot of fun but there was alcohol and wrong choices and I was still just a big kid at heart.
What football teaches you, that’s what you use in life. Sometimes you’re down and out in football and whatever got you back up again in football, the same thing works in life.
I was living day by day. Playing football there was always a challenge, always a light at the end of the tunnel, always trying to achieve something. I spent two or three years of lost time then I bought a Lenards chicken shop and instantly had another challenge.
I’m 21 years with my chicken shop now, added another and I’m working as a property consultant at PRD Nationwide real estate in Mackay. Every day there’s a challenge.
ALCOHOL TOOK CONTROL OF ME
I have three boys and girl. My eldest is 21 and she runs one of my chicken shops. She’s amazing. My eldest boy is 19 and I coached him at footy since he was 12.
He was around that age when I had a major change in my lifestyle. I’d gotten into a habit of teaching him how to pour me a 7pm Jack Daniels, and a 1am Jack Daniels, and one night it came to me: ‘What the hell am I doing?’
I woke up in the morning and said, ‘That’s it, I’m never going to drink again.’ It’s been seven years.
I think perceptions of alcohol are about the environment you are in. Back in our day the culture was your old man used to sing out to the kids, ‘Hey grab me a beer’. As an 11-year-old, you’d knock the top off it and have the first swig.
We were pretty much encouraged to have a drink and people were ignorant about how harmful it was, how much of a drug it was. The alcohol took control of me but I’ve turned that around in the last decade.
In the early days, when I first gave it away, I didn’t like to go to reunions or parties. I just stayed on my own for about 12 months. Now I’m okay.
I looked up to see a young Bill Harrigan with his arm pointed in my direction. Bill has never looked better. And when he blew that whistle I just remember thinking, ‘I’ve made it’.
Back in 1993, I got married on the Gold Coast. My father had given up drinking and smoking for a year. He came to my wedding that night and started drinking and smoking again, and 10 years later he died. That is my motivation for why I’ll never drink again.
He was 63 when he passed away. I’m 53 now.
I love the person I am now. I needed to do what I did to get here. You shouldn’t be judged on the person you were but the person you are right now. I’m a stand-up man in the community here. I love helping out, coaching kids, but not for myself.
I got to live a dream in the game and if I can coach one kid to realise a dream like I did, then that’s all worthwhile.
MY EMAIL TO GREENBERG
I’ve always loved rugby league and I’m a believer that if you love the game it will love you back.
Canterbury-Bankstown rang me recently and are flying me down there for a grand final function. They’ve nominated five tries as the best in grand final history and mine was one of them.
We’ve come so far as a game in recent years.
When I was playing we weren’t educated enough to understand the emotion and make-up of the individual. Now the game has support and psychologists who look at players as individuals and not just members of a group. They didn’t have enough information on how to treat individuals.
Not long ago, I sent an email to Todd Greenberg, telling him a little bit about my life after football and the hardships I’ve had.
A week after I was forced to retire from the game I went to the Gold Coast Seagulls presentation, and my name never got mentioned.
I was sitting with my wife and three-quarters the way through the night I said, ‘They’re not even going to mention my name here’. She said, ‘Yeah, they will’. But they didn’t.
When the night was done I remember walking from the club to the football field, going up and down in the dark. And that’s how my career ended.
I love the Raiders and I love Ricky Stuart. We still communicate. I texted him after the win over Cronulla. He always texts back, ‘Love you Jacko’.
They’ve had a side that could have gotten the job done the last couple of years but played like the Harlem Globetrotters. This year, since signing the Englishmen, they’ve become more disciplined. Sometimes they were leading by 12 points and playing like a side that was behind by 12 points.
I told Todd that if Canberra make the grand final it would be nice of the NRL to bring me down for it so I could put my foot on that arena and experience all the memories I had from 30 years ago. Maybe they’ll throw in a grand final breakfast.