I have no idea who that man was in the stands at the Gold Coast and I don’t hold any grudges towards him. I just remember how his comments made me feel.
I know the way I reacted looked wrong but I was just trying to have a moment with my family. At the time and in that moment, I didn’t care what people thought. For as long as I’m alive I’ll always be a reflection of my parents, so when the incident after the game happened, I felt like I wasn’t the only one being disrespected. That’s why I reacted the way I did.
The only thing I regret was having my little sister there to see how I reacted.
She didn’t need to see her big brother like that.
It had been the toughest week of my life. Dealing with something as personal and painful as this while you’re in the public spotlight of a Wallabies camp was difficult. And reading stories in the media about your family situation didn’t make it any easier. I remember every single moment of that week. It’s all very clear in my mind for some reason.
We had a day off on the Wednesday. I had spent the day riding scooters with some of the boys on the Gold Coast. I remember that night I had gone to walk on the beach and clear my mind before Tolu Latu saw me and joined. We were discussing all things about life and just having a real talk. Life was real good at that moment.
Then I received a call from my mum telling me what had happened to my dad … I’ll never forget that.
Still, I wanted to keep my personal issues and my football separate. I let the team and the coaches know what had happened and I told Cheik straightaway that I was playing. I said, ‘You’re going to pick me at No. 6 and I’m going to play.’
I don’t regret what I did. I’m glad I played. People say, ‘He should’ve done this, he should’ve done that,’ but they’re not walking around in my shoes. I went out there and did the best I could. I tried to approach it like every other big game – be physical and have a presence on the field. We didn’t get the result, but my mind was strong throughout the game.
When I play rugby and when I train, I feel free. While I was out there, it was the best I had felt all week. I was able to put reality to the side for 80 minutes and do something I loved.
But once the fulltime whistle blew, it was like I had the world on my shoulders again. Everything hit me at once. I looked up at the stands towards my family. The one person I was so used to seeing wasn’t there and my post-game routine felt weird. It was different this time. I was heartbroken.
It all went downhill from there.
I always thought that I could deal with anything growing up. I’ve always had an answer or been able to find a way through good and bad times. But this time – for the first time – it’s been very different and I’ve struggled.
My mind was made up. I knew I had played my last game for the year.
I had coaches and players reaching out to ask if playing would be the best thing for me, to take my mind off everything that was going on. Sir Peter Cosgrove called, sent me his best wishes, and asked whether I would reconsider joining the squad for Argentina. It was less than two weeks after what happened and it was way too soon. I thanked him and told him I appreciated the support and kind words but I had to decline. I just think some people don’t really understand fully what my family has been through.
The public and rugby fans only see the rugby player. They don’t see the person. We’re not superhuman or better than anyone else. There’s nothing special about us - and there’s definitely nothing special about me. Not only do we represent our country on the field, we represent the people who have helped us along the way and, most importantly, our family. With me, what you see on the field is someone who made the most of the opportunities created for him by his parents. The sacrifices they have made - and continue to make - are what I’m most grateful for.
I knew the most important thing I could do during that time was to be with them. My family always comes first.
I wasn’t the only member of my family to play that weekend. My little brother, Xaelin, did too. He plays for Sunnybank and they had their grand final on the Sunday and we were all there to support him.
He’s so much like our dad. We spend a lot of time together. He’s my best friend. We’re always with each other - chilling, listening to music and shooting hoops – and he’s really shone a light on how I should live my life. He’s only 14 but he’s been a big influence on me.
My mum is the love of my life. She’s been there for me since day one. I would struggle to get through day-to-day without her. We’re from New Zealand and we moved to Australia when I was young. This country has given my family so many opportunities. It has been one of the great honours of my life to represent Australia. It’s a blessing to be able to call this place home.
I’ve always lived with my mum. I still do. She’s my rock and she’s always been the most important person in my life. Talking to her, spending quality time with her, has given me the strength to get up and go to training and keep living my life. She gives me life and she’s the person who can always put a smile on my face.
I have six siblings but I only live with three. They are very important to me as well. We’re not a big crew. We’re a little family and we’re very close. I’ve also spent a lot of time speaking with my eldest cousin, Henry. I’m the eldest of my family and he’s pretty much been the big brother I never had. He’s someone I always speak to everyday and turn to for advice regularly. I really look up to him.
The time I’ve purely spent with my family will only help me tick goals off in the future. There’s no doubt about that. I don’t pretend to know what will happen next year. There’s no secret why 2019 is so big being a World Cup year.
All I know is that I will do what I need to do every day to get that gold jersey back. It’s an exciting year coming up with the Reds and the Wallabies and I’m just keen to rip in with a clear mind and a full heart. The fire is burning more than ever now.
I am grateful for this space that I’ve been given over these past few months. I know it will lead to a better future for everyone close to me.
There is nothing like representing your state, your country and your family.
Especially your family. Family is forever.