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5 days ago
An 18 month battle with bipolar disorder and constant public criticism have driven Parramatta star Tim Smith to the brink of quitting the NRL.
Smith sought indefinite leave from the Eels and will reunite with his family on the Gold Coast to help in his battle to cope with mental illness and the pressure of the NRL.
He spoke to his teammates at training on Monday morning and in a prepared statement told the media of his struggle with bipolar and inability to handle the never-ending public scrutiny.
"I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 18 months ago and in this time I have been seeking professional advice and taking prescribed medication to try and help me deal with the day to day life of someone with bipolar," said Smith.
"I'm not using bipolar disorder as an excuse for any of the things that have happened in the past or my decision today.
"However, I am not coping with the constant media pressure and public scrutiny."
The 23-year-old has been involved in several alcohol-fuelled, off-field indiscretions since making his debut in 2005 and spent time in a rehabilitation clinic during the offseason.
Eels CEO Denis Fitzgerald was relieved Smith came forward with his personal problems and his request for leave wasn't prompted by another public misdemeanour.
"It's good that Tim has come out publicly to say he has got bipolar and that there hasn't been any incident that has triggered this situation," said Fitzgerald.
"The primary thing now is for Tim to be doing what he and his medical advisors think is best for him."
It's been a tough start to 2008 for Smith.
He endured offseason shoulder surgery and returned to the NRL in the round three extra-time win over Newcastle, but his poor early form has coincided with two successive losses to North Queensland and Gold Coast and Smith has attracted severe criticism from former players and media commentators.
Manager David Riolo said Smith had struggled to deal with the criticism and increasing pressure on his game.
While Riolo couldn't predict how long a break the young star needed, he was confident Smith would not walk away forever.
"The most important thing really is Tim's welfare and wellbeing," said Riolo.
"Sometimes in life there are things more important than rugby league. Tim's mental health and his health in general is what he has to put forward in this situation.
"Tim doesn't think that he is coping as well and his footy is probably suffering as a consequence. He doesn't want to let his teammates or club down.
"I have no doubt he will come back. He is a quality person from a good family and he will work hard."
Riolo said Smith's off-field problems had also weighed on the player's mind as he struggled to understand why he was portrayed differently to how he was perceived by those close to him.
"There's a public persona and we don't shy around the fact he hasn't had the best PR in recent times," said Riolo.
"But people who really know him know him as the caring, sensitive young bloke.
"You see a public persona but there's a person behind that and the person at the moment is really struggling."
Coach Michael Hagan said he supported Smith's decision but the Eels needed to move on quickly as they face a crunch clash with rivals Manly on Friday night.
"I don't think you enjoy any day like this when you have a young player say he is not enjoying his footy and is finding it very difficult," said Hagan.
"We understand that Tim is not coping with some of that pressure as well as he would like to ... I think he has got to be congratulated for stepping aside because he doesn't feel he is coping that well with the demands the game is putting on him.
"(But) we have a game of football we need to get ready for on Friday night. This game doesn't stop for anyone and the team understands how important the game is against Manly this week."