Blue Dog Gone

As a person progresses through life, they can expect to encounter many situations which will change their life for better or worse. How they react to those events shape a person?s destiny and reveal their character to the world. In forty days and forty nights in 2004, my life was turned upside down, challenged and changed possibly forever.

My sister and I are like opposite ends of two magnets ? forces which resist and oppose each other but ultimately snap together in an unbreakable bond. I love rugby league and the Oils; she hates both with a passion and has on occasion hidden cassettes only to be found again. She loves sloppy television dramas and singing very badly out of tune to Britney Spears; I bite my bottom lip and let it be. Respecting each others? differences makes us closer together ? therefore it was a seismic shock when she was diagnosed with bulimia and depression and was hospitalised as a long-term patient.

My mother pulled up roots and moved to Brisbane to be close to her. Usually it is the children who grow up and leave home, but both of my parents and my sister had left, leaving me in charge of my brother. After the novelty of never making my bed wore off, it became increasingly apparent we were in way over our heads.

The second life-changing event was my sudden and spectacular dismissal from my teaching practicum, barely two days away from formal teacher registration.

The main problem, according to my supervising teacher ? picture Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoo?s Nest ? was that my planning and dedication to the teaching profession was somewhat lacking. All of her claims were subsequently dismissed by higher authorities but the damage was done. My confidence and career was in tatters - not hers. Nurse Ratched continues to count down the days until her retirement.

For someone who usually had a happy-go-lucky disposition, my life seemed to be in ruins. My sister?s condition was spiraling out of control ? pills one day, razor blades the next ? and my career, for all intents and purposes, was over before it started. As a non-smoker and non-drinker, I had to find alternative outlets to release my stress. After a week of guzzling Coca-Cola on my couch watching the Olympics, I headed on a plane to Brisbane and continue feeling sorry for myself on someone else?s couch.

The situation could not continue indefinitely. I was at risk of getting a case of the ?Blue Dog? myself. I found my solution in the North Queensland Cowboys, whose charge to the finals coincided with the personal turmoil at home. I?m not really religious at all, despite twelve years of catholic education, yet this could be a sign that times were a-changing. I camped out overnight in central Brisbane to purchase finals tickets whilst my brother packed his bags for a crash tour of Sydney.

We were off to Telstra Stadium. It was an exorbitant luxury, escaping to Sydney for a weekend away whilst the bills stacked up at home. It was as if my brother and I were collectively saying ?And screw you too!? to the world. This was our time, we would be there to see history in the making, and there wasn?t a thing that Nurse Ratched or my sister?s ?blue dog? could do about it.

History would prove us to be absolutely vindicated. The Blue Dogs were vanquished.

What other sport in the world can pick you up from the depths of despair and make you feel ten feet tall and bullet-proof? As I bounced off the seats of Telstra Stadium, punching the air along with the Southern Stampede, my mobile phone went off with a text message.


It was the first communication I had had for a month from my sister. Against the odds, she had forced herself to watch the game. I immediately texted her back.

The seeds of recovery had been sown. Rugby league was the unlikely medium that my sister needed to begin the healing process ? one which nonetheless continues to this day.

My own recovery is now almost complete ? in little more than a month I will become Mr Bomber and hold court over my own class. How easy it would have been to stay on that couch and fade into a Coke-induced haze. Instead, like a second-rower, I tucked the ball under my arms and charged into the defensive line of life.

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