From tragedy to the brink of tri­umph

Last year Burleigh’s Cameron Cullen was in a dark place. Now he’s one game from glory

Rugby League Week - - League Week - BY JOEL GOULD

CAMERON CULLEN’S LIFE has been changed for­ever by heart­break, but he’s used it as an in­spi­ra­tion to ex­cel on the field. When his beloved older brother Justin passed away in July last year in a drown­ing tragedy off the Maldives, he was at a cross­roads.

“When some­thing like that hap­pens to you it changes your life and the way you look at ev­ery­thing,” says the Burleigh Bears five-eighth be­fore this Sun­day’s grand fi­nal with Red­cliffe at Sun­corp Sta­dium.

“I knew when he passed away that it could have bro­ken me, or made me. I had two choices. But I’m not the type of per­son to give up on things.

“I was go­ing through such a hard time and there were times I wasn’t even think­ing about play­ing on.

“After it hap­pened I quit footy, left Mackay and didn’t play the last six rounds [of Q-Cup].

“But hav­ing rugby league there gave me some­thing to put my en­ergy into. I stayed nar­row-minded and fo­cused on what I wanted to do, which was to play NRL.

“Be­cause 2015 was the worst year of my life, to think that in 2016 I would play five NRL games for the Ti­tans and in a grand fi­nal for Burleigh . . . it’s just crazy how the world works.

“Hav­ing him as an in­spi­ra­tion helped me a lot. It’s not hard to rip in when you’ve got some­thing like that on your mind.”

His older brother was a rock as Cameron was mak­ing his way through his years at the Bron­cos. The 23-year-old now sports sev­eral tat­toos that will for­ever hon­our Justin.

“We grew up to­gether and moved out of home to­gether,” says Cameron, who’ll join Manly in 2017.

“When I signed with the Bron­cos he moved up to Bris­bane with me and we lived there for four years, just me and him. I would go to him for any prob­lems I had, or ad­vice.

“Peo­ple say he was a twin of me. We looked the same, acted the same. He was a mas­sive part of my life and footy ca­reer.

“I know how keen he would have been for me to play first grade, let alone in a grand fi­nal for Burleigh. He would’ve been at every game we played and [been] the big­gest Burleigh Bears sup­porter there is.”

Cullen’s fa­ther Wayne was an out­stand­ing player in his own right and a mem­ber of Wayne Ben­nett’s 1985 pre­mier­ship side at Souths Mag­pies.

Cameron says his fa­ther re­mains “one of the big­gest in­flu­ences of my ca­reer”.

“When I need ad­vice, he’s the one I go to,” he says.

“The best ad­vice he gave me was to be pa­tient. He al­ways be­lieved in my abil­ity and that I’d make it in the NRL. But it’s been a rocky road. I wasn’t one of those blokes who grad­u­ated through 20s to the NRL. I took the path­way through In­trust Su­per Cup.

“It’s hard some­times when you’re not in a sys­tem but one of the main things he’s al­ways said is that if I kept putting in the hard work, it would all work out.

“A grand fi­nal any­where is spe­cial but we [Burleigh] have such a close group of boys and it would mean so much to win.”

“When he passed away it could have bro­ken me or made me”

GRAND FI­NALE Cameron Cullen will swap Burleigh for Brook­vale after the de­cider.

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