DESPITE the combative nature of the sport on the field; rugby league is a close-knit community where people band together in times of need.
Earlier this year, the Intrust Super Cup was rocked by the tragic and untimely passing of a fellow player; someone who was well-liked, who was playing great football and always wore a smile on his face.
However, that smile hid an internal pain that he may have thought was a burden he had to bear by himself.
The passing of Alex Elisala spurred Ipswich Jets chairman Steven Johnson into action and along with Redcliffe Dolphins captain Petero Civoniceva and fellow front row forward Isaak Ah Mau; they sought to find a way to raise awareness of the issue of depression amongst rugby league players.
After setting up a meeting with QRL general manager of major competitions Jamie O’Connor, the wheels were set in motion for the League to highlight the need for action on an issue which was devastatingly brought to the fore.
In partnership with beyondblue, who work to increase awareness and understanding of depression and anxiety in Australia and to reduce the associated stigma; this weekend will see the launch of the inaugural “Turn to Me” round in the Intrust Super Cup.
All clubs will wear blue socks for the round in an effort to promote the work done by beyondblue.
Rugby league players are often seen as the epitome of strength and toughness, but sometimes the most courageous thing a person can do is ask for help.
Ah Mau and his captain Civoniceva recently filmed a commercial which will run on Channel 9 where the key messages centre on highlighting the importance of speaking to someone in your time of need.
The ad also acts as a prompt for players to ask how their teammates are feeling and to encourage them to seek help if they need to.
As one of the faces of the campaign, Civoniceva said he hoped their presence would influence some young players to open up.
“I think it is important that as a game and as a competition that we do something to bring awareness to this issue,” Civoniceva said.
“For Isaak and I, being in the commercial was about ensuring that guys understand they can turn to someone to help them, be it someone they trust like family, friends or their coach or one of the hotlines.
“It affects people of all walks of life … (but) within our code, we look for toughness in a physical sense on the field, but real toughness is being able to get out of your comfort zone and to turn to someone and talk to them.
“It can seem like a huge thing at the time, but if you get some help and talk things through, you may find it’s actually something small that you can deal with.”
As well as promoting the cause, each club has been given the relevant tools to enhance their player welfare programmes; which fits in with the broader focus within the game to promote strategies to deal with mental health challenges.
All clubs attended a mental health first aid course delivered by the NRL Welfare and Education Department last week.
The Turn to Me round will be an annual fixture on the Intrust Super Cup calendar.
*beyondblue’s work is aimed at achieving an Australia community that understands depression and anxiety, empowering all Australians at any life-stage, to seek help. beyondblue raises awareness, reduces stigma and ensures people have access to the information they need to support recovery, management and resilience.