NRL leg­end shares bat­tle

From the Bur­nett to the big stage

Central and North Burnett Times - - SPORT - Matt Collins Matt.Collins@south­bur­nett­times. com.au

A FORMER Cher­bourg res­i­dent and NRL leg­end has opened up about his bout of de­pres­sion and he wants oth­ers to be brave enough to share as well.

Wil­lie Tonga re­tired from pro­fes­sional sport more than a year ago, which meant start­ing a new life away from the sport he loves. The tran­si­tion proved a strug­gle to come to terms with.

“It has never gotten to the point where I’m think­ing of sui­cide, but it does put me in dark places,” he said.

“The thing is, I am only start­ing to be­come com­fort­able talk­ing about it whereas be­fore I would come home and sit in a dark room and it would just be my­self and my thoughts.”

Tonga, who played in sev­eral NRL teams as well rep­re­sent­ing his state and coun­try, said hav­ing his time over, he would’ve placed more of a pri­or­ity on life af­ter football.

“I thought I was in­vin­ci­ble and rugby league was go­ing to last for­ever,” Tonga said.

“When you’re in your early 20s, life af­ter football is the fur­thest thing from your mind.

“There are wel­fare of­fi­cers who will help, but ul­ti­mately it is your de­ci­sion whether you want to start a course or whether you just want to go home and play Xbox and sit in front of the TV.

“Sadly, I chose the se­cond op­tion.”

Since re­tir­ing from pro­fes­sional sport, Tonga is now in an of­fice en­vi­ron­ment and he said the tran­si­tion was the hard­est thing he has had to face.

The former State of Ori­gin star said his men­tal an­guish was ob­vi­ous to see for his new of­fice col­leagues.

“I was a cou­ple of weeks into the new job and the lady that sits next to me, she came over and sat down and said ‘Will, are you okay?’,” he said.

Tonga stressed the im­por­tance of ask­ing the ques­tion if you think some­one is strug­gling.

Tonga will play for the Cher­bourg Leg­ends at the

Leg­ends of League game on Fe­bru­ary 9 and he is ex­cited to give back to the town that he owes so much to.

Any­one ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a cri­sis or think­ing about sui­cide can call Life­line 13 11 14.

JOHN MCCUTCHEON

SPEAK­ING OUT: Former Cher­bourg res­i­dent and NRL leg­end Wil­lie Tonga has opened up about his bout of de­pres­sion.

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