BRISBANE BRONCOS BOSS PAUL WHITE AND FAMILY FACE THEIR TOUGHEST CHALLENGE
Breathe. Breathe in and out of all of your stories, the people gathered at your mother’s table, the kids kicking footies across dusty ovals, the inner-city alleyways and country lanes, your wife and your daughters, five Christmas baubles strung across the darkness.
Breathe in everything that has led you here, to this table, with the mask moulded like a hand across your face, as the radium begins its work, treating the tumour that shadows your brain.
In and out of all those stories, and all those players in your life, everyone on your team now.
PAUL WHITE, 49, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
of the Brisbane Broncos, would like the club’s fans to know he fights the good fight; to know that the seizure that shook him just before the third match of this year’s State of Origin – the one that saw Queensland pummel NSW into 52 points to 6 submission – occurred as he was having a “particularly vigorous discussion” with National Rugby League executives over the Broncos potentially playing Thursday night football. Fans like their footy on Friday nights, and White, somewhere up on the 11th floor of a glass tower in Brisbane’s CBD on June 30, was on the phone to NRL headquarters, and also on, he says, “the front foot”.
“A few of us had gone to a solicitor’s office in the city to do some club business, but I was in another room, taking a series of calls about [the Broncos] playing a couple of Thursday nights,” White recalls at his home in Brisbane’s inner west. “It was what you might call an animated chat,” he says, grinning, “and I’m up for it, you know, I’m enjoying it, to be honest, because you’re not there for tea and scones; I’m going into battle for the club, and then … ” White struggles to find the right words to describe the seizure, the way his whole body tightened, the way he thought he was most probably having a massive heart attack, the way the phone tumbled from his hand. “Then I lost myself,” he finishes, simply.
Broncos chairman Dennis Watt found him in a “bit of bad way”. Tests later that day would show White had a low-grade, primary tumour on his brain, one that would require radium, chemotherapy, and another kind of battle altogether – one that he is also certainly up for. As Watt notes: “Paul possesses a particularly strong determination [“stubborn bastard”, White’s wife, Angela, later translates] – when the ambulance arrived, he refused to get into a wheelchair or stretcher. He said, ‘No way mate, I’m walking out of here’, and so he did, down the elevator and across Eagle Street to the ambulance, hanging on to my arm for support.”
Watt was happy to give it. Because from the Broncos chairman to captain Justin Hodges, who drives White to some of his radium treatments, to hooker Andrew McCullough who goes “walking with Whitey” one morning a week, to the players, friends and colleagues who send texts and leave dinners on the doorstep of the family home, there’s a snaking queue of people wanting to bring something to the table for the man who welcomes everyone to his own.
Ask McCullough, and Broncos halfback Ben Hunt, who met White in June 2011, not long after his arrival at the club, not long after both were charged with public nuisance after a somewhat exuberant night in Brisbane’s CBD. Both then 21, and shaking in their footy boots, they expected to be bawled out by their new boss; instead, he asked them to dinner.
“They turn up at my house,” White recalls. “They both look a million bucks, smell great too, and I said, ‘You probably won’t need to look so flash where we’re