Fau­muina scratches his seven-year itch

Re­formed NRL bad boy makes his lon­gawaited re­turn with Easts Tigers

Rugby League Week - - News - BY ROBERT BURGIN

“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.

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