PLAYING FOR MY BROTHER
When Sam Verrills runs onto the field for the Sydney Roosters, he has ‘JV’ written on his wrists in honour of his sibling, Jack, who took his own life in 2015. He tells Michael Carayannis how the tragedy has inspired him to raise awareness about suicide
Just hours after his brother had taken his own life, Sam Verrills walked out of the family’s Avalon home. The captain of Manly’s under-16 side chucked his kit bag in his assistant coach’s car and headed for Brookvale Oval.
When he got there, the Sea Eagles coach told him he didn’t want him to play.
The star hooker had other ideas.
“I’m not injured, I can play,” Sam told him.
He scored two tries to help Manly beat Western Suburbs.
“It was one of the few games I didn’t go to. He put a blinder on,’’ dad Mark said.
“Sam never gives up an opportunity to play a game of footy. Whether it be in the backyard or at school. If there is a game on, he wants to play.”
The solace on the field was masking a pain the Verrills family has lived with since
February 28, 2015, when Sam’s brother, Jack, died.
Jack’s workmate had raised the alarm that Saturday morning, telling them he’d failed to turn up to work on the nearby ferries. They found Jack’s body in his bedroom at their home about 7am. He was 20 years old. “It was a horrible week,” Mark told The Sunday Telegraph, sitting on a tug boat where he works in Port Botany.
“We knew something was wrong but we didn’t know what was going on. If I had that time again in the lead-up to it, I would do the opposite to what I did. He was having a rough patch like all kids do.”
That week, Mark had called his work’s helpline and used that conversation to help with Jack.
“Let’s go to the doctor,’’ Mark told his son.
Jack said he was at work and he’d go the next week.
“Well, next week never came,’’ Mark said.
“On the Thursday, he went back to work and I went down and saw him. He was charging at work. I said, ‘You’re all right?’ and he said, ‘Dad, I’m fine’.
“The next day I saw him and he said ‘I’m on fire, Dad, I’m on fire’. I told him ‘I told you it would work out’.
“He was going to a farewell for one his good mates that night.’’
Sam, who still lives in the family home, has a twin brother, Oliver, and older brother, Billy. There are days when Mark struggles to get out of bed, the same two unanswerable, unbearable questions rolling through his head: “How and why did I let this happen?”
“In August, my oldest son Jack will officially be my youngest son because all his younger brothers will be older than he was when he took his life,’’ Mark said.
Sam has impressed plenty at the Roosters this year. Still eligible for the under20 Jersey Flegg competition, he has forced his way into the NRL side after earning a development contract following a strong pre-season.
Sam writes “JV” on his wrists before every game and has his brother’s birthdate tattooed on his chest.
“He’s a massive inspiration, he’s the main focus why I keep going,” Sam said. “He was a hooker, as well. He was a bit crazy out on the footy field.
“He would go 100 per cent
“My brother was a grea t guy. I thought he lo ved his life b ut one sill y error … Sam Verrills on his br other Jake
without any care for his body. He knows how important footy was to me, he loved the fact that I played footy and wanted to make it a career. He would have been very happy with how far I have come now.
“I speak about it when people ask me. People kind of come up to me and feel uncomfortable asking me, but I will speak about it because my brother was a great guy.
“I thought he loved his life but one silly error …”
Mark and his wife, Kimberley, were in the crowd when Sam made his NRL debut against the Melbourne Storm in April.
Mark is certain Jack was with them, too.
“All his mates used to call him Moonhead,” Mark said. “As Sam ran onto the field, all we could see was this great big full moon on the eastern side of the ground. I knew he was there for that game.
“Cameron Smith was Sam’s idol and in his first run, Cameron tackled him. I went home and I’ve watched that seven minutes he played so many times. Just sitting there hearing ‘Verrills passes to Cooper Cronk’ is amazing.”
His friends chartered a bus from the northern beaches to watch his first NRL starting match against Penrith last week when he topped the tackle count with 39. He has been named on an extended bench to play the Bulldogs today.
Kangaroos and NSW star Jake Trbojevic is another who has written “JV” on his wrist strapping at times during his career. “He was a tough kid,” said Trbojevic, who played alongside Jack at Mona Vale.
“He did everything 100 miles an hour and loved his footy as much as his dad. They are a great family.”
Sam wants to use his standing as a budding NRL star to help raise awareness for mental health issues. He has already spoken with the Roosters about playing a part in the NRL’s state of mind campaigns.
“At my brother’s funeral, we had donations instead of
bringing us flowers,” Sam said. “Instead of bringing us flowers, we actually asked for a donation for Headspace.
“We know with youth suicide nowadays, it’s very important to raise awareness within our community, with how popular he is. Where we live, it happens quite a bit. It’s about raising awareness to try to stop it.”
Mark had tears in his eyes when The Sunday Telegraph showed him Sam’s comments.
“That’s the most I’ve heard him open up apart from what we talk about in the kitchen table,” Mark said. “To go out of his way and do that, I’m extremely proud of him.”
Lifeline 13 11 14
Sydney Roosters captain Boyd Cordner with Sam, Mark and Kimberley Verrills and Roosters forward Jared WaereaHargreaves. Sam has a tattoo of his brother’s birthday on his chest.
Sam Verrills in action against Penrith and ( above) his brother, Jack.
The Verrills family were devastated when Jack (back left) died from suicide, but the success of Sam (middle front) in the NRL has given them a chance to highlight the importance of mental health.