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
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.