The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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It started in the winter of 1999, days after my sixteenth birthday. Like most other teenagers I was having trouble at school and trouble at home, yet it paled in comparison to my trouble with Jack Taylor, star halfback of the Warragamba Wombats, my local junior football club. As he proceeded to kick the sh*t out of me, I presumed I was fast becoming the victim of a gay bashing judging by what he was shouting out. If only I was in a position to tell him I was straight. I remember though, as his assault relented, saying a line so comically cheesy it could?ve come from a Hollywood movie.
?I?ll get revenge for this, even if it?s the last thing I do.?
I was left with two black eyes, facial lacerations and bruising all over my body. In other words, I felt like hell. I managed to avoid Jack afterwards as I stayed inside all the time and we went to different schools. When asked about the incident I claimed I was attacked from behind, that I never saw the perpetrator. I didn?t want the stigma of a dobber and feared further reprisal. Basically I hoped that if I left it alone, so too would Jack.
As it turned out I was right to leave the incident alone. A few weeks later in the local rag I read about Jack being left paraplegic after attempting a tackle during a footy match. While I didn?t feel good about Jack being doomed to eternity in a wheelchair, I also didn?t feel any empathy for him. Yet all that was to change a few months later?
It was surprising and awkward when Jack called me to apologise for the bashing. He explained that since the tackle he found Jesus, turned his life around and regretted many incidents of his past. He wanted to make amends. I even went over to his place, only to see a shadow of the person I once, admittedly, barely knew. It seemed like such a downfall for someone so talented and popular.
As unlikely as it once would?ve seemed, a friendship formed between the two of us. I fast became someone Jack could confide in, perhaps because he had no one else. I learnt much about his past. He explained that his father was very strict and always wanted him to excel in rugby league and that much of his past attitude came from his father?s influence on him. I started seeing a sensitive side to Jack, which was not just surprising considering how he composed himself before the tackle, but for the fact he was a teenager just like me. But it came as no surprise when he came out and told me he was gay, in fact it explained quite a lot.
My friendship with Jack wasn?t to last that long. He was found overdosed on pills lying on his bedroom floor by his mother as she came home from work on the 23rd of November, 1999. He was only seventeen years old. I remember the sombre mood at his funeral, which was attended by his family and many locals, including Jack?s old footy friends. I kind of resented them considering the lack of support they gave Jack after he became paraplegic.
As the formalities of the funeral came to a close I hugged Jack?s mother, my presence comforting her, if only slightly. Tears rolling down her cheeks, she thanked me for being such a good friend to Jack in the time before his death. It was the most emotional sight I have ever witnessed. She explained that I meant a lot to Jack and that he hadn?t seen much of his old friends since being put in the wheelchair. She handed me Jack?s shark tooth necklace and told me to take good care of it. Her mood was completely different to Jack?s father, who stood quietly as if attempting to reveal no emotion at all. She asked if I would like to spend a private moment with Jack?s coffin. I politely accepted.
I stood by the coffin and thought about the moments I had shared with Jack ? our short friendship, the first phone call and the bashing. Deep down I knew he couldn?t hear me, but part of me still hoped he could hear every word I had to say.
?Jack, I swore I would get revenge. You?ll never f**k with me again.?