Faumuina scratches his seven-year itch
Reformed NRL bad boy makes his longawaited return with Easts Tigers
“MATE, I’M DONE.”
Sione Faumuina let the message sit on his mobile phone screen for a few seconds. Then he hit delete.
The admission of defeat was intended for Easts Tigers coach Scott Sipple, who’d placed faith in Faumuina to make a much-vaunted comeback at the age of 35.
After three years sober and the release of his motivational autobiography The Second Phase, an unlikely return to semi-professional footy was supposed to be the icing on the cake for the former bad boy.
But there he was, prepared to throw in the towel.
“Yeah, the first week back after Christmas, after a full week of training, I almost sent that text,” the former NZ Test rep admits.
Intrust Super Cup pre-seasons under the Queensland sun are tough enough for blokes in their prime, let alone those in their mid-30s who have struggled with alcoholism and depression. Double that for guys who have their third child on the way, due next week.
But if Faumuina learnt one thing during his long exile from top-tier footy, it’s that mental strength is everything.
“For me it’s really easy not to drink, because I absolutely fear alcohol”
“I didn’t end up sending the text,” he says. “I knew the biggest thing is mental toughness and if you can keep your mind in good condition, the body will follow.
“I just went back to training, didn’t do much talking, and decided I’d let my actions speak for me.”
Faumuina was last seen in the NRL back in 2008 at the North Queensland Cowboys, before a one-year stint with English club Castleford Tigers. His time in both hemispheres was littered with explosive, embarrassing and expensive lessons mainly brought about by alcohol.
From 2010 to now he’s played a bit of club rugby union, as well as park footy with Goodna, Peak Downs Pirates and the Tannum Sands Seagulls – nothing like what he can expect in a full season of State League.
However, he’s already ticked off a key achievement on his wish list, selected in Easts’ first team for last weekend’s trial against reigning premiers Burleigh Bears.
“I’ve been training six days a week, mainly because I knew I had to if I wanted to match it with other players,” Faumuina says.
“I’ve lost a bit of weight, too, which has made it easier. I was 120kg before and now I’m 111kg. My goal is to be 109kg by the time the first fixture games roll around.”
While his rebirth on the field is part of the equation, the much bigger picture is his engagement with the wider community about his issues with mental health and addiction.
Since releasing The Second Phase he has become a youth worker with a non-profit organisation that helps affected youths manufacture furniture.
He’s an ambassador for several charities, speaks publicly about his battles with the demon drink, and is in the process of producing an alcohol awareness program that he hopes to find partners for.
Amazingly, he also runs a laundromat and any slender window of spare time is filled with rehab for his injuries.
“You know the best bit is that now my story is out in the open, people don’t pressure me to have alcohol anymore,” he says. “They know I’m off it and they respect it.
“For me it’s actually really easy not to drink, because I absolutely fear alcohol.
“I’m engaged to my partner Renay, have two beautiful daughters and a third child coming. There’s a lot for me to be thankful for and a lot for me to lose. I want to keep my life in a positive place.”
Faumuina’s very public confession has led to complete strangers writing to him, thanking him for sharing his story, and for inspiring others to put down the bottle.
He says just last week he received a message from a lady whose husband was celebrating his first month alcohol-free.
She had tried hard in the past to encourage her husband, but after he read Faumuina’s book, he took on sobriety of his own volition.
It’s those little victories which reassure him he’s done the right thing.
“Football-wise my goal is a premiership, because I’ve never won one,” he says.
“But my personal goal really is to get out to as many schools, businesses and organisations as possible and share my story.”
PREVIOUS CLUBS? I’VE HAD A FEW Sione Faumuina spent time with Castleford (left) and Hull FC (above) in the English Super League, on top of NRL stints with Canberra, the Warriors and North Queensland.