If the mind doesn’t want it, the body won’t follow

The physical side of football isn’t the hardest part of playing in the NRL. The mental side can be much more difficult. There isn’t much you can do physically, but it all comes down to your state of mind.

There is so much more to do than get in shape, train and play. You have to deal with things off the pitch, whether you make the squad or not, whether you’re re-signed, how you react to injuries.

It doesn’t matter if the body can handle it; if the mind does not want it, then the body will not follow.

This realization only hit me at the start of my career, right after my debut when I was not chosen to play.

When you’re young and getting into the NRL, you just assume you’re going to be playing freshman all the time. Coming back to the reserve rank from the top when I was developing as a young player moving up the ranks was huge – and not in a good way. I started to doubt myself, to think maybe I wasn’t good enough, to guess what parts of my game needed to change.

But eventually it all came to my mind.

I was a New Zealand kid who didn’t know much about mental wellness. I thought doing all the physical stuff would be enough, but that all changed in this delicate part of my career.

Have someone to talk to

Moving to Australia when I was 13, from a big city like Auckland to Townsville, and doing that just with a few other guys that I had played club football with, without my parents, was a huge change for me. .

The move had a big impact on my mental well-being. There was a lot of nervousness after I left my family and moved to another country. I left the place where I had lived most of my life until then, so I spent a lot of time feeling homesick. With no immediate family within touching distance, I got to the point where I was wondering if it was worth it or not.

I needed some reassurance to continue, and part of that came from my parents. I called them almost every night to keep in touch.

There was one night, about a year or two after the move to Townsville, which I still remember today. I called home and got very emotional. I told mum and dad that I wanted to come home, that I wasn’t sure I wanted to be here anymore.

They were awesome, they told me how much they believe in me and reminded me of how much work it took to get to this point. It really reminded me why I was doing all of this and inspired me to keep going.

Mom and Dad made a huge decision later, around 2009, to move to Townsville to be with me. They left their job in New Zealand behind because they wanted to be closer to me, a huge sacrifice that I will never forget.

Being so family oriented, having them close meant the world to me. Seeing them on the pitch motivated me to work harder and play the best football possible.

Have someone hold you accountable

One Cowboys guy who helped me a lot – and not just then but still to this day – is John Asiata. He was one of my biggest influences.

As a young child, I started training late and didn’t do the little things like weigh in and stay on top of my diet. Sometimes you need help with that, and that’s exactly what he did for me.

John and I moved in together and he set very high standards for becoming a professional athlete. He hammered home how important the one percent is: sticking to the schedule was one, the diet was another. I started to eat healthier, and it had a ripple effect on my mental well-being – I felt much better for the change.

Being away from home in Auckland my friends and family weren’t around as much so there weren’t a lot of people I could come back to and talk to but with John I was able to really open up whether it was about what was happening on and off the pitch. Having someone to talk to was great and it often helped clear my head and straighten things out.

Sometimes men don’t talk about their issues or how they feel, but having a good friend and mentor like him to talk to has been incredibly beneficial for my mental well-being.

To be completely honest without John I probably would have left the club. There were a few times when I could have easily lost my contract because I repeatedly failed to do the little things our coaching staff were asking for.

Mentally it was a challenge because I knew it was costing not only myself but also the team. I needed support and he was able to provide it to me.

Feel at home

Moving from Auckland to Townsville so young, I didn’t think I would last this long. I certainly didn’t think I would end up signing an agreement to stay here for another ten years.

The move was a huge eye-opener because the lifestyle was so different from the weather to the co-ed school. But I love the people here – I’ve had it since day one. They made me feel welcome from day one, and I want to make sure to show my thanks for that.

Going out to North Queensland and helping the kids here – we go to the local schools to help the teachers and then run with the kids on their lunch breaks – it’s so rewarding. Children are the next generation, so if we can influence them to be good people or leaders or have a positive impact on their lives, then I will be more than happy with myself.

Having that kind of connection with the community is a big help for me mentally. Losses and injuries are part of the game, but they can be very exhausting.

Even something as simple as going around town, meeting new people and asking them how you are, if you are doing well, or wishing you a speedy recovery, it shows that your community is supporting you. It happens so often in Townsville, it’s a really friendly community. And that makes a huge difference.

Having the right people around you is crucial. It can give you a boost of confidence and help you stay in the right headspace.

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