The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - MICHAEL CARAYANNIS

They were the lucky ones — blessed with tal­ent, pas­sion and on a path that led to riches and fame. Then it all came crash­ing down and they had to re­build lives with­out their cho­sen

sport. To­day, we be­gin a se­ries pro­fil­ing league play­ers whose ca­reers ended all too soon.

Kyle the Foot­baller.

Kyle Stan­ley lived it for a decade.

But at 24 years old the for­mer teen prodigy was forced to start a new life as Kyle, the ex-foot­baller. “I hon­estly didn’t know who I was,’’ Stan­ley ad­mits.

His body sim­ply could not sus­tain the life of a pro­fes­sional ath­lete.

It was not sup­posed to go this way. He had long been ear­marked as a rugby league su­per­star — touted as be­ing even bet­ter than his older brother Chase who had played first grade and rep­re­sented the Ki­wis while still at school. Stan­ley signed his first con­tract at 15 but af­ter just 46 top grade games he was done. “I was ba­si­cally heart­bro­ken re­ally,” Stan­ley said. “I thought I would still be play­ing footy to this day but my body wasn’t strong enough. I just feel so un­der­done. “When I watch footy I get emo­tional. There are blokes there that I used to play with and play against, and I think I did have the po­ten­tial but my body just couldn’t keep up with the week in or week out stuff.

“It was a mas­sive loss of iden­tity. I was Kyle the footy player since I was 14. I didn’t leave the house for about four months. All I knew was footy, footy, footy.

“I felt em­bar­rassed be­cause I thought ev­ery­one had this per­cep­tion of me be­ing a washed up young footy player — a typ­i­cal young footy player who didn’t make it.”

Stan­ley un­der­went the first of his five knee re­con­struc­tions — three on his left knee and two on his right — while play­ing foot­ball at En­deav­our Sports High. He had an­other one in the un­der­20s but man­aged to come back from the set­backs to play first grade dur­ing St Ge­orge Illawarra’s 2010 premier­ship-win­ning sea­son.

By 2012 he had ce­mented him­self as a top grade player de­spite be­ing shifted through a va­ri­ety of po­si­tions.

His body failed him again dur­ing a round 19 clash against the Sharks. His mis­for­tune grew when, dur­ing his re­cov­ery, he slipped and rup­tured his knee again, end­ing any chance of play­ing in 2013. He fea­tured in nine games for the Drag­ons in 2014 be­fore be­ing thrown a life­line by Cronulla when he signed a one-year base salary con­tract.

“I’d just come off the back of a Four Na­tions tour­na­ment for Samoa and I was feel­ing in the best shape of my life,” Stan­ley said.

“In the first game of the sea­son I was play­ing re­serve grade for Newtown and I turned around to chase a kick and bang, it went

“That That was the No.1 thing that kept me to­gether. If I didn’t have my two boys I don’t know where I’d be.”

again. I knew I was gone straight away. The four times prior I never thought about quit­ting.

“I was young and thought I was in­vin­ci­ble and I’d breeze through the in­juries. But as soon as I did this one I knew that was f—king it. I knew I was done for sure. No one wanted me af­ter that.”

Stan­ley had also had two shoul­der re­con­struc­tions.

With his ca­reer over, Stan­ley’s life was now in limbo. He had no ed­u­ca­tion and had gone from sign­ing a rich three-year deal at St Ge­orge Illawarra to a mod­est con­tract at Cronulla to … noth­ing.

“It was the only thing I knew,’’ Stan­ley said. “I had kids at a young age and that puts a lot of things in per­spec­tive. You have to pro­vide and sup­port them.

“That was the No. 1 thing that kept me to­gether.

“If I didn’t have my two boys I don’t know where I’d be.”

He re­fused to watch foot­ball for two years and has only been to one match since re­tir­ing.

But Stan­ley has now found his pur­pose af­ter un­der­tak­ing a car­pen­try ap­pren­tice­ship.

“The sky is the limit here for me,” Stan­ley said. “I al­ways have to have a pos­i­tive out­look oth­er­wise you dig your­self into a hole. When I got over it I look back now and think of how stupid I was.

“There is so much more to life than footy. It’s what you do out­side of footy which will de­fine you.

“When you’re a kid you dream to play first grade. That was my dream. I ac­com­plished that.

“I do take great pride in fin­ish­ing the ap­pren­tice­ship be­cause it’s such hard work.

“I’ve learnt a lot about my­self more so than when I was a footy player. This win­ter was the worst win­ter we’ve ever had.

“My knees on the work­site were stiff­ing up so bad. I don’t want to tell l any­one I feel it. It takes me a good five sec­onds to get up off my knees. I need to main­tain a healthy life­style. Later on down the track I’ll l need to get a few surg­eries but we’ll talk about that when it hap­pens.”

As we chat at a Car­ing­bah cafe near Stan­ley’s lat­est work­site, the 27-year-old is stopped by a lo­cal builder to dis­cuss prob­lems at a nearby job.

“I’m happy,” Stan­ley said. “I’m con­tent with life. I’m not go­ing to lie, there were mas­sive strug­gles along the way.

“Kyle the foot­baller is no longer. It’s now Kyle the chip­pie.”

Pic­ture: Brett Costello

Stan­ley was long touted as a fu­ture rugby league su­per­star.

Pic­ture: Mark Evans

St Ge­orge Illawarra’s Kyle Stan­ley suf­fers one of his five ACL in­juries in 2012.

Pic­ture: Brett Costello

Stan­ley says the sky’s the limit as a chip­pie.

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