THE BEST THAT NEVER WAS!
STARS WHO FINISHED TOO SOON PART 1: KYLE STANLEY
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.”
Stanley was long touted as a future rugby league superstar.
St George Illawarra’s Kyle Stanley suffers one of his five ACL injuries in 2012.
Stanley says the sky’s the limit as a chippie.