STANDING in front of the eastern grandstand at Centrebet Stadium, Penrith hooker James Segeyaro struggled to control his emotions.
His side had just beaten Parramatta 44-12 – missing the Panthers’ highest winning margin over the Eels by just one point.
But in so many ways, win, lose or draw, these are sad days for rugby league. Every week, there is another tragedy. If it’s not the death of a former great or leading player administrator, it’s the passing of a young star barely old enough to drink.
And casting a shadow over it all is the ASADA investigation, which suggests that part of what we invest our money and each weekend in is a sham – just when we were getting over the fact we played two entire seasons without anyone winning the premiership.
And when these two very different forms of misfortune collided last week, there was rancour and hurt and recriminations and bad blood and more sadness.
Papua New Guinea rake Segeyaro, 22, cared not for ASADA or the debates about journalistic ethics. Before kick-off, he had been told this close friend Alex Elisala had died in Mackay.
“It’s just a shame how he went – I miss him heaps,” Segeyaro, who had “LEK” written on a wristband and pointed to the heavens when he scored tries in the 29th and 55th minutes, said before a backdrop of cheering fans.
Segeyaro declined print media interviews but as he stood on the field with Triple M’s Andrew Johns, he said: “I had a prayer with Simmo (team-mate David Simmons) up there before the game .
“It just showed tonight he (Elisala) was looking after me. First touch (I scored), I don’t know what happened.
“I just love you mate. I miss you, brother.”
Details of Samoan international Elisala’s death have not been reported in any detail. His family made the decision to turn off life support yesterday.
But in tomorrow’s Rugby League Week magazine, the annual player poll asks: “Do you suffer, or have you ever suffered from, depression?”
This reporter helped conduct the poll. I was stunned by the number of players who answered yes. I would say, in my tiny sample of respondents, the ratio of yes answers was at least one in three.
The full results will be announced overnight this evening.
As we switch on our televisions, buy and sell our fantasy league players and vent steam about an underperforming footballer on Twitter, we know almost nothing about the pressures on today’s NRL players, and the extreme actions such pressure can inspire.
Late last night, Segeyaro stood in the corner of the Penrith sheds while another young man seemingly with the world at his feet, debutant fullback Matt Moylan, conducted a nervous interview with scribes.
“I didn’t make rep sides until I was 17, 18 … I always hoped to but I never thought I’d get here,” he said shyly “I’ve always played in the halves growing up so I probably liked Andrew Johns.”
Before interviewing the grief-stricken Segeyaro, Johns had told radio listeners debutant Moylan would be “in cubicle three, spewing his guts up before kick-off”.
Moylan didn’t know what to make of that. “I was just excited,” he said.
Johns also thought the fresh-faced Moylan “could be deadset the sixth member of One Direction”. Another blank look from the confused local junior.
The eighth Immortal had his own personal problems, remember
When we called Johns the prototype of every modern player, this isn’t what we meant – that his demons would become theirs.
The last word, then, to James Segeyaro, at the end of a night he’ll remember for reasons good and very, very bad.
“Thanks brother. I miss you heaps. I’ll be there to send you away.”
Filed for: NRL.com