FORMER Wallaby winger Ben Tune tackled his share of demons on the field but it was those off it that brought him to Tamworth on the weekend.
The World Cup winner was the special guest at a fundraiser at Tamworth Rugby Club for local mental health service headspace Tamworth.
He was raw and honest as he spoke about what he called his “mental health journey”, and his own battle with depression.
That almost came to a tragic end in 2009 when he attempted to take his own life, and he started his address with an extract from his diary written not long after.
In it he wrote about losing his passion for life.
He had retired two years earlier.
It’s not uncommon for elite sportsmen/women to have trouble transitioning to “normal” life and Tune initially brushed off his behaviour and feelings as that.
But as he only came to realise during his recovery, his problems existed long before that.
They’d just been “camouflaged” by his sporting career.
“A sporting career is a fantastic disguise for mental illness,” he said.
The “red flags” were there, such as days off training being “relative days of darkness” for him, and untreated, developed into an addiction to painkillers.
“To put it bluntly painkillers made my days bearable,” Tune said.
He didn’t take them the days they were playing or training, but then when he hung up his boots those days disappeared.
“Once I lost the structure and single-mindedness of professional rugby my life started to unravel,” he said.
To the point that he decided to end his life.
Now with the clarity of awareness, Tune said among the many regrets in his life, what he is most embarrassed about is that he didn’t put his hand up to admit he needed help.
“You can’t beat what you don’t know and you can’t fight a war without any weapons,” he said.
That is where services like headspace come in, and Tune couldn’t stress enough the importance of talking to someone.
He was also happy to talk rugby and, asked about his famed swan dive after scoring, acknowledged the inspiration came from the Jim Carey movie Cable Guy.
Regarded as one of the best players to pull on a Reds jersey Tune, not surprisingly, had mixed feelings about the Waratahs’ breakthrough Super 15 success.
“I wanted to get excited for the Waratahs but I found it hard,” Tune admitted.
That said, he was glad for them they won.
Many have drawn a line from that for next Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup and Tune is similarly optimistic.
“The Waratahs doing so well makes me feel like we’ve got a genuine shot,” he said.
The worry for him playing the Kiwis is always the forward pack, but the Waratahs handled the Crusaders pack, which is expected to be pretty close to the All Black pack, pretty well.
“I’ve got high hopes,” he said. “But you can never tell with the Bledisloe.”
As for anyone in the modern game he would have liked to play with Tune, not surprisingly, said Israel Folau.
“He’s one of those players you just follow him around enough and something good is going to happen,” he said.
He was of much the same ilk as Steve Larkham, who was along with Tim Horan the best player Tune said he played with.