A sneak preview of former NRL player Sione Faumuina's upcoming autobiography The Second Phase. This extract from the book depicts what so many professional footballers suffer in the face of alcohol, gambling and ultimately depression
I roll into my parking spot almost on auto pilot as I would every day for training.
The routine drive from West Auckland to Penrose is monotonous, like clockwork, but today feels different.
Slouching down in the driver's seat cutting a forlorn figure, I stare vacantly out the window in the direction of where I can see my team mates arriving for another days grind.
Here I am 23 years old, living what most boys dream of, being a professional sportsman or “Rugby League Star” if you will, yet I am battling, debating and fighting self-doubt and deciding whether I roll this bad boy out the carpark and leave or report to duty.
My latest indiscretion added to the growing list on my rap sheet is sure to get some media air time, more immediately though, coach is going to rip shreds off me.
This latest incident has cast doubt over my mental state as I start to question a lot of things. Is this battle between me and the media, me and the public, me against the world going to end right now in this very moment? If I drive out of here, there is no coming back, goodbye Warriors, goodbye Rugby League.
Fight or flight time.
I finally muster the courage to turn off the ignition and grab my gear bag from the back seat which is nestled between a week's worth of newspapers, coffee cups and plastic sports bottles. The mess in the back seat of my car funnily enough accurately describes my life at the moment, lacking structure, direction and purpose.
I walk towards the training sheds and give a polite nod to a couple of the Aussie boys before delivering handshakes in a typical Pacific Island embrace with the boys Francis Meli, Iafeeta Paleasina and Hame Lauaki. I tell myself that I have made the right decision to turn up today, yet I don’t feel at all comfortable but as usual I put up an act and continue to laugh and crack jokes with the boys.
This particular training session is nothing out of the ordinary and nothing in the session stood out other than the fact I spend every second trying to figure out exactly how I am going to tell Coach Daniel Anderson that I am quitting football.
He taps me on the shoulder at the completion of the last training drill and very quickly mutters that he wants to see me in his office after I finish up stretching and immediately I begin to feel nauseous.
My heart is racing as I head up to Ando’s office and not because of what I am afraid he is going to say but more of what I am going to tell him. I try to quickly find the right words in my head before I get to his office door but struggle as my emotions are everywhere.
Here we go......
The office door is slightly ajar as I push through to see him seated behind his desk looking at his computer screen before he looks up and catches my eye. I know straight away by his facial expressions that he is ready to deliver me an almighty spray. I have seen that look many times before on the training paddock and during half time addresses, and this one is going to top the time he ripped shreds off me at halftime in the sheds against the Broncos. Before I could see him I could hear him saying
"You have 20 minutes to show me something or else I will hook you from the field!
I am not even seated before Ando looks like he is going to explode so I decide to quickly, I guess in poker parlance “go all in” and before I know it the words coming out of my mouth are
“I quit, I am done with footy and I have had enough”
Upon hearing this, his whole persona changes as if his doctor told him he has a day to live. Funny, in my naivety I thought he may come from around his desk and give me assurances that football is secondary to my welfare hug it out and tell me not to worry we can get through this.
I guess I was silently crying out for that father figure who abandoned me at an early age and who I thought could be replaced by a mentor or coach but again I was let down. I really wanted to tell coach to shove this game and walk out and be done with it but instead I retreat back to that scared little Samoan boy still living inside telling me to back down, nod in agreement, walk out and pretend everything is cool.
The realisation of Rugby League being a results driven business to clubs with the players just paid cattle hit me like a tonne of bricks. Here I am a young man who has natural sporting talent but clearly has no grasp of the reality of dealing with what comes with it. I am crying out for help and all I get back is
“Mate just play the ANZAC test, and then take some time off after that”
This made me question a lot of things about my footy career at that point in my life but sadly the answers to those questions were slowly coming and in the process of sorting myself out I kept drinking heavily, kept getting into trouble and plastered across the front pages of the Sunday News. It was just a vicious compounding cycle because I had failed to get my mental state sorted early on in my life.
“You are a professional league player bro”; “You're getting paid big bucks”; “You made it out of little West Auckland man”
Those comments from people in my circle were playing on loop in my head every time I thought of giving up. On one hand I felt guilty because I had this lifestyle others would love to have and was earning good coin to help my family, yet on the other hand I was angry with myself because I knew I had deep rooted issues that remained unresolved in my life and I had nobody I could really talk and felt alone.
The attention I was getting through the general public, the media was something I was not prepared for, sure I craved it like any other young guy but once I got the full throttle of fame, I wanted to give it back. It felt like my every move was scrutinised, judged, commented on both on and off the field.
The TV cameras, radio jockeys at every training session and games wanting a piece of me, strangers in the street wanting to shake my hand, VIP sections in nightclubs, copious amount of alcohol, guys wanting to drink with me, girls wanting to get with me.
The lifestyle of a prominent professional sportsman was both a gift and a curse.
The purpose of his book is to help the footballers of today cope with the pressures of a professional career in sport and act as an unofficial guide for dealing with the trappings that come with notoriety and success and how to overcome those obstacles.