PEOPLE STILL THINK WE’RE GUILTY
I didn’t take up drinking until I was 20. That was the culture at the Bulldogs then. It was drink hard, train hard, play hard. We were out every weekend. Every single weekend.
The Coffs Harbour stuff brought us closer. It was us versus everybody else. To this day, people still think we’re guilty.
I wasn’t even there at the time. I was taken in and questioned by police. The way they twist words around… Even though I wasn’t there I had to come up with an alibi. ‘Who can witness that you weren’t there?’ I had that but still they made you think …
The hardest thing was what the families had to go through. Walking down the street and someone calling out ‘rapist’. I remember being in a club in Brisbane and this girl threw a glass at Willie Mason and called him a rapist.
The boys decided they had their reasons not to talk about it. If people asked, it was not their business. And we knew we were in the right.
Johnathan Thurston had his reasons why he spoke on it in his book. I’ve spoken to him about it.
I know a lot of boys were not happy with him bringing it back up. But whether they’d called him out on it or not? I know they didn’t and I don’t understand why. If you’ve got something against him bringing it up, call him.
He was trying to explain himself and he thought, if I’m telling my story and I leave that out, people are going to think that I’m avoiding it and trying to hide something. He felt, ‘If I do talk about it, people are going to hate me’. In his words, ‘I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t’.
When he was speaking to me, he was wondering what the boys would think about him bringing it up. I said, ‘Don’t worry about anyone else, this is your story’. I told him, ‘Bro, you do what you have to’.
I DEALT WITH IT THROUGH PRESCRIPTIONS
I’ve had 15 surgeries. There have been times where I’d lock myself away. Because I was in rehab I didn’t have to go to training, I’d just close the blinds, wouldn’t go anywhere and be there with my thoughts. Thoughts like, ‘Is this it? Am I ever going to play again? Am I ever going to be the same player again?’
I got through it. But not the way I should have. I didn’t reach out to anybody. I didn’t speak to family members about it. Because you’re in this game, a macho sport, and you don’t want to reach out to any of the boys or feel vulnerable.
I just kept to myself and it’s only within the last six months I’ve been comfortable speaking about where I was and how my mind was. I was depressed. I didn’t think I was until I spoke to someone and they said, ‘You were in denial, Will. Those dark days you were having, you were depressed’.
When I heard that, I broke down and started crying.
I dealt with it through prescriptions. I have never spoken about that before, but that’s what got me through it.
I remember being in a pub and a guy said to me, ‘You’ll never make the Australian team again’. I said ‘Why’s that?’ He said because of Mark Gasnier and Matt Cooper and Brent Tate.
I’d never met him before. This guy wouldn’t even remember it. But him saying that has been massive motivation throughout my career. To get back to that representative level took five years, but I made it.
I HAD TO KEEP IT TO MYSELF
In 2013, Tonga’s friend and fellow player Reni Maitua tried to commit suicide. Tonga answered an SOS from Maitua’s sister and arrived in time to save his friend’s life.
It was a traumatic experience. Not knowing he was going through that, with how close we were. I thought I’d be able to see signs and pick up things but I didn’t see signs.
People who are suffering, for the most part, are able to mask it. There were a couple of months where I couldn’t talk about it. Reni and I haven’t spoken about it. I had to keep it to myself. I wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone about it and that messed with my head.
Reni wouldn’t answer my calls or text messages. He said he was embarrassed, that was his main reason he didn’t take my calls. But all I wanted to do was make sure he was OK and every couple of days I’d try again.
I made sure there was nothing around he could have used to harm himself. We were at one of the boys’ houses and he was living there. It was an L-shaped lounge and I was on one side and he was on the other, and I made sure I tried to stay up all night.
I remember falling asleep and I woke up and he wasn’t there. I jumped up and ran to his room and he was asleep in his bed. I try not to think about it too often.
I don’t want that image in my head anymore. I struggled with that, seeing that image, for a long time, but I’m happy it worked out the way it did.