By STEVE MASCORD
AT the end of this chat with Cronulla prop Bryce Gibbs, conducted in the shade of the grandstand on a scorching Sharks Stadium morning, we go back and check a couple of things.
Vague statements look bad in print and it’s always advisable to try to pin the interview subject down, no matter how touchy the topic.
A few minutes earlier, Gibbs had told A-List that when he was forced out of Wests Tigers in 2011, he had been “in trouble” and the joint venture had threatened to sack him if he didn’t leave voluntarily.
On this, Bryce won’t be specific. As it turns out, he is not being evasive for his own sake – I later learn – but to protect the others involved. Suffice to say, it wasn’t the crime of the century*.
The second thing we have to check is that the affable Gibbs had earlier commented that at the time of his move, he was suffering “personal problems”.
It may seem to you like prying but terms like that pose more questions than they answer. It’s my job to ask if he wants to say more. No pressure, then, just got to ask….
Bryce looks a little uncertain, then replies: “I had depression for about a year and a half.
“I never told anyone, my family knew. I don’t want to be one of those players who come out and say ‘I had depression, I had to take tablets.’.
“People know about it, the doctor, the coaches. Tough time. I’d come to training, grab a drink, go out and train and go straight home. The boys would go ‘where’s Gibbo?’.
“I’d go home and sit by myself. All the boys helped me through it. ”
He asks that I not make “a big deal” of this, that he doesn’t want to be seen as someone making excuses, and reckons “I still haven’t told mum and dad about it”.
But these days, one person speaking out about depression can be part of another suffer’s solution – and Gibbs wants to help.
It’s hard to imagine the chuckling man next to me being filthy on the world. Gibbs sees the fun in most things and still has the sparkle in his eyes most of us lose in adolescence. He and former club-mate Liam Fulton, for instance, have greyhounds called “Gibbinator” and “Fultonator”.
Luckily, this is a feature and not a news story. If it was a news story, then the two issues listed above would be “a big deal” – but they’d be vying for space with plenty of other things the 28-year-old says in this breezy 20 minute chat.
Take his account of why he has one foot in a moon boot and isn’t expected back until round 10.
“I had a couple of beers at home and put my leg through the window,” he says.
“This was in December. I was playing lawn bowls. I was in my bedroom. One of the boys texted me from the beach on the way home and I was trying to put my phone on charge and I went ‘whack’ and put my foot through.
“It healed up but never come good. Then I played in a trial game against Newcastle. Deadset, the play-the-ball was on the 40 metre line, I ran on the field, it snapped and I came straight off. I was on the field about three seconds.”
Gibbs already had trouble with his foot. He had sliced out part of his Achilles tendon in the accident at home and the scar tissue had pulled away.
“I told the truth, I told Flanno, (coach Shane Flanagan),” said Gibbs. “He wasn’t too bad. I was here last year and he knows I’m a bit of a loose cannon.”
And then there’s the story behind his 2006 battering at the hands of then-Bulldogs prop Mark O’Meley, when he was knocked out trying to tackle ‘the Ogre’. Interestingly, the Canterbury version is that O’Meley’s team-mates attributed comments to Gibbs from a radio interview that never really happened.
Gibbs tells it differently. Turns out team-mate John Skandalis should have been the one sent to Disneyland
“Skando (John Skandalis) said something about ‘I’ll bring it to Ogre” he says. “Sheensy (coach Tim Sheens) gets to the game and says ‘did you say that’ and Skando says ‘that was me’.
“They quoted me, got it wrong.
“Sheensy goes ‘too late now’. This was game day, we‘re watching reserve grade or 20s
“Anyway, we were going at it all game. I thought I had him (O’Meley). Then we got into a fight. I was walking down the tunnel, he’s in front of me, and he was saying ‘you’re a dead man Gibbs, you’re a dead man’.
“We got back out on the field, I think there was a dropout, and he went straight at me. I put my head in the wrong place and he knocked me out.”
Gibbs relishes the yarn. There’s still a place for personal battles, he says. “I’ve had 20 fights, 20 losses,” he laughs. “You still give it to some players, yeah. There’s still chat out there.
“Especially when there’s a kick downfield and it goes out and you walk to the scrum. You’ve got about 20 seconds, there’s still a couple of words said – which is good.
“I just go first and they bite back. A couple of the boys will gee me up, they’ll give me something to say to a player and I’ll go out there and say it. Usually, Beauy (winger Beau Ryan) will give me something to say.”
Insiders reckon Gibbs played a key role in dissuading the Sharks from striking when coach Shane Flanagan was stood down last month and four staffers sacked as part of the drugs in sport scandal.
He says the strike didn’t really come close to happening but adds: “At the end of the day, the coach wanted us to play.
“…. members … we’d be letting them down and ourselves and the coach. We played and we got the win. I’m pretty proud of the boys over the last couple of weeks, actually, how they’ve been playing.
Gibbs is seen as the glue at Cronulla, even though he’s relatively new. That’s probably why is departure from Wests Tigers was so traumatic. Senior players like Benji Marshall resented the fact Gibbs and others had been moved on and it may have played a key role in the axing of Sheens.
“I got called into the office,” Gibbs recalls. “I got in trouble the week before and they sort of said ‘if you don’t leave, and you do something else again, we’re just going to sack you’.
“They put me in a corner. It was an off field thing, my fault. Not a terrible thing. It was a salary cap thing, I know they needed players to go.
“At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Tim Sheens. He might have got rid of me – and (Stephen) Humphreys – but he taught me everything I know.
“I still love him even though he got rid of me.”
At the time of his departure, he says, “I did it tough. I was going though a hard stage of my life. I couldn’t cope with everything. The boys stood behind me, the coach did as well.”
Despite repeated references to him as a “funnyman” and his love of social media, Bryce Gibbs does not want to follow in Ryan’s footsteps as a television star. “It’s not something I really enjoy doing, talking in public,” he insists.
“If someone writes to me on Twitter, I feel like I have to reply to them,” he says.
He has two years, including this season, to run at Wooloware and reckons there’ll be a premiership for the Sharks in that time.
Meanwhile, getting “in trouble” has worked out well. Bryce moved his family from Camden to Bundeena, in the Royal National Park. “Being close to the water, I dunno, it’s more laid back…” he says.
“At the end of the day, it was the best thing in my life actually.”
*In March, 2011, the Inner West Courier reported that Gibbs, Beau Ryan and Liam Fulton were each fined $1000 for drinking while injured. The paper said a night out “ended on a sour note with a heated carpark argument between two of the players, a woman and her partner.”
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK