PLAY­ING FOR MY BROTHER

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NRL -

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.

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