FIRE DOUSED | After returning to finals action in 2015, the St George-Illawarra Dragons struggled un...
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Exhausted, I sat down atop the sand dune, the mountain of tiny granules shifting beneath me to create a perfectly contoured resting place. Beads of sweat snaked their way rapidly down my face, back and chest, their trails glistening behind them. My strained lungs gasped for oxygen, my heart knocking furiously against my chest like a caged animal trying to return to the freedom of the wild. My muscles twitched, as if nervous for what might happen next.
I too, had some anxiety about the coming year. This season was to be my make or break moment. I wasn't the only one who felt this - many in the football community agreed. I'd already made my first grade debut in the previous season, and I'd been on the club's books for half a dozen years since signing at just 14 years of age. I'd grown up with the club - my teammates were my family.
I felt like I had made some special achievements in that time. There was my debut, of course, but I had been 18th man for the top side when I was just 16 years old. I made the Junior Kiwis just a few months later. I was named Warriors Under-20 Player of the Year in 2007, a season that also involved me setting the club's bench pressing record and playing my part in an historic 24-22 victory over the Junior Kangaroos. By the time of the Rugby League World Cup, I had been selected in the extended squad for two different nations.
They were accolades that I drew strength from, but 2009 was going to be my moment. It had to be. Deep down, I knew that it was my best opportunity to make a lasting mark on the NRL.All of the talk was of potential. I yearned to fulfill it.
Daylight was just beginning to fade as the chilled salty air, brought ashore from strong winds amidst crashing waves, recaptured my attention. My heart had slowed to a patient beat, but my body still ached after the day's hard training. My vantage point atop the dunes, allowed me to gaze casually and scan the beach below. Family members who had previously been wandering the coastline were now in the water.
My heart jolted back into rapidity as wide eyes watched my family struggling to escape a rip.
I knew full well that this beach was renowned for its moody currents and its possessive tides.
The hot blackness beneath me shifted as I did likewise, staggering to my feet and running, half falling, down the mountainous dune in a panic, the sun-scorched sand pulling me in with every step.
My tired legs screamed and my muscles begged for a rest as I forced myself across the flat shore below, ignoring their cries as I reached to grab a buoyancy aid. My muscles could wait; my family could not.
Freezing jolts of shock coursed through my joints as the chilled water swirled around my legs like tentacles weighing me down, but still I pressed on into the 1.5 metre swells and started to organise a rescue.
I told my cousins and my younger brother to link arms, and we worked together to slowly haul our human chain out of the merciless ocean. But just as we neared dry ground, my brother's grip loosened, then slipped, and he was ruthlessly dragged back into the rip. With my floatation aid now assisting one of my cousins back to shore, I pursued my young sibling.
By the time I was able to grab hold of him, we were both exhausted. He wanted to give up, but I refused to let him. With everything I had left, I pushed him out of the turbulent water, but I could not afford myself the same salvation.
I was wrenched out to sea, my body drained of all strength, my head lifted towards the heavens. Searches, fundraisers, and grief would follow. Fans from as far away as Europe, Asia, and America would mourn my loss. But I had truly fulfilled my potential. I had made my mark. Heroism was to be my greatest accolade and my lasting legacy.
For now, I was tired, and my will to fight was slowly fading with each nudge from the greedy sea.
I needed to be still.
I needed to rest.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. - John 15:13