Pettybourne calls for help for Polynesian players
May 2, 2013
Having dealt with the tragic deaths of two friends - both fellow rugby league players - in just two months, Wests Tigers’ Eddy Pettybourne says enough is enough.
The back-rower says the NRL community cannot continue to let its young Polynesian stars struggle with deep personal problems alone.
Pettybourne and the Tigers were rocked by the death of 20-year-old forward Mosese Fotuaika, who took his own life in March after tearing a pectoral muscle during a routine weights drill.
Pettybourne was again hit hard when he learned of the tragic death of North Queensland’s young hooker Alex Elisala, also 20, which he found out about on Twitter.
Just a fortnight ago the pair were in camp together as Samoa teammates, preparing for an international against Tonga.
“He was really quiet. But he was a good kid,” Pettybourne said.
"He had his head straight and was always laughing.
“I spoke to him last week through Twitter, we were having a laugh. Then all of a sudden it’s happened.”
Elisala died on Monday after his life support system was switched off, following an off-field incident.
“It was not long ago Mosese passed away … It’s not good. I don’t want to see it happening again,” said the softly-spoken Pettybourne.
He hops the NRL can do more to ensure young Polynesians are afforded help to deal with the pressures they feel from a relatively early age, often while living away from their family support group - and to remove the stigma that surrounds depression.
Young Polynesian stars often feel a weight of responsibility to provide for their families and are also less likely to open up on their fears and problems, according to Pettybourne and teammate Ben Murdoch-Masila.
“A lot of pressure is building up in their own minds,” Murdoch-Masila said.
"With my mate Mosese, he had a lot of pressure … feeling as though he had to give back to his family.
"His missus was pregnant.
"There’s a lot of things probably running through his head and I think it just got the best of him.
"Some Polynesians tend to hide their feelings a little bit. They hold back.
“When I first came into NRL and first grade training, I held back a bit. I didn’t really talk to anyone for the first six months.”
Pettybourne and Murdoch-Masila both offered their services to the NRL to help talk to young players.
“Someone needs to help these players out,” Pettybourne said. “Because it’s hard.”
The fear is that a generation of talented young Islanders may have unrealistic expectations about their futures because of the high profile of the NRL’s under-20s competition which has featured matches twice a week on pay television.
The leap to regular first grader then appears to be well within reach but statistically the odds are still against players going on to have an established, well-paying top flight career.
And if that career progression doesn’t follow the same path the player had hoped it would through to first grade, the pressure begins to build.
“It’s hard playing from 20s onwards, where do you go from there?” Pettybourne says.
"If you make 20s and break through first grade, you’ll be alright but lots don’t.
"And that’s probably where I think they get stuck.
"What are they going to do for work? They only want to play footy.
“That’s why it’s a bit hard. I would like to help.”
Their stance is supported by a poll of 100 NRL players conducted by Rugby League Week, which found one in five players admitted to having suffered depression.
The alarming figure highlights the widespread problem across the game, and the need for support across all levels of the sport.
“And they (the players) have to tell you (what’s wrong). That’s the hard thing, because you don’t know,” Pettybourne said.
"I didn’t know that Mosese had problems or anything like that.
"It could’ve been (what happened on) that day, or whatever it was. I’m not sure.
"It’s so hard because those boys are always smiling.
"But they’re quiet. I’ve found out it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to look out for.
“It could be anyone.”
Lifeline 13 11 14
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
Multicultural Mental Health Australia www.mmha.org.au