‘Tragic tale’: The battle to save Brett Dallas
QUEENSLAND'S State of Origin creed is all about rising from adversity and covering your mate's back when he is struggling.
Often that means scrambling to repel a raid on your own line in front of hostile enemy fans, but sometimes it involves the much greater challenge of trying to pluck a man out of a deep, dark downward spiral far more threatening than anything he faced on a football field.
Brett Dallas, 45, the former Queensland and Australian league rugby league winger no rival could catch from behind, has been stopped in his tracks by what his former teammates and friends say is an illicit drug problem.
Dallas has never been convicted of possessing drugs, but in a post on his sadly incoherent Twitter feed in February 2018 he claimed "cocaine is one hell of a drug".
Beneath a photo of a trickle of blood falling from his nose, he "remembered that day blowing part of my nose out'', but his former teammates suspect an even more notorious drug is the current cause of his problems.
During his painful decline Dallas has exhausted a lot of goodwill and the concern in the Maroon camp in which he was once a fleet-footed star is all the greater because they know how badly he needs friends.
They know that somewhere deep inside him is a shy country kid who took a wrong turn and they hope, against considerable odds, the lost boy can be found again.
Dallas, who played five Tests and 10 State of Origin games to go with club stints at the Bulldogs, North Sydney and English club Wigan, was found guilty of his 10th stealing offence in less than a year in his home town Mackay in January.
TAKING A WRONG TURN
There was no grand plan behind his cringingly obvious and easily detected crimes, which were often captured on CCTV footage and seemed the product of a mind not connected to rational thought.
Among the items he stole were a $690 coffee table, four pairs of boardshorts, an SD card and portable charger.
Dallas told a magistrate he needed the board shorts because people kept stealing his clothes and he did not want to ask his parents for money because he wanted to fend for himself.
Dallas will return to the Mackay Magistrates Court on Wednesday where he faces the threat of jail unless he can prove he has turned his life around after he was directed to link with the Lives Lived Well organisation, which helps people with drug addiction issues.
"It's really sad to hear his life has taken a turn,'' said Queensland State of Origin coach Kevin Walters.
"One thing I want to say to Brett is that he is always part of this Queensland Origin family. Once you play for Queensland, you are part of a special family and he is a part of it and always will be.
"The door is always open to Brett with our Queensland team. We don't turn our backs on our own.
"I'm hoping that with the right help around him, we can get him back to where he should be''.
And what he was.
During his lengthy first- grade career, Dallas was known as the inoffensive shy guy in the dressing room who kept a lot inside him. His friends and family, who see him occasionally in Mackay, say he still does and that is a key part of his problem.
Dallas was the car-loving country kid, a blinding speed merchant with a body like an Olympic sprinter so well defined that, according to one teammate, "he looked as if his skin had been peeled on over his muscles''.
His highlights reel includes a series of tries where he looks like a cheetah being chased by buffalo with his crowning moment being a 90m runaway try in the second State of Origin match in 1995 when Fatty Vautin's underdogs sealed a stunning series win.
A modest man
When he pocketed $15,000 after scorching to victory in the Botany Gift race against fellow rugby league speedsters in 1993 Dallas modestly claimed he only won because the distance was 75m not 100m but his rivals insisted the longer the race the bigger the gap would have been.
"He was one of those guys in the background - a quiet, humble and respectful country boy, but he could be sharp-witted if need be,'' said former Bears and Queensland teammate Billy Moore.
"Honestly, if you said when I retired this is the way Brett's life was going to go I would have said you were absolutely crazy. He had a job, a wife, a family, but the way it's gone shows you the danger of drugs.
"To me the Brett Dallas story needs to be told because it shows the dangers of the excesses in our society.''
The quest to save Dallas is ongoing but the slope of the mountain is getting steeper and more slippery by the year. As the cliff face steepens the willingness of the support staff wanes, but rugby league has seen some incredible salvage operations so hope continues that Dallas is not a lost cause.
No one enjoys seeing a former star descend into such aimless life.
Even Mackay Magistrate Damien Dwyer, who firmly declared "enough is enough'' after Dallas's last offence, conceded "the last thing this community or anybody wants is for you to go to prison''.
But Dwyer added that Dallas, once such a keen listener in his playing days, had to heed the message that a jail sentence was on the cards "unless you can show me that the community is safe''.
But the truth is that Dallas, for all his stumbles, has never really been a major threat to the wider community - the man most in danger by his actions has always been himself.
His instability did, however, rattle his Bears teammates, some of whom had informal chats with police following several incoherent rants by Dallas on social media several years ago.
Matty Johns got frequent mentions in his off-the-wall Twitter posts. In one post about Johns, Dallas turns the camera on himself and reveals a fiery-eyed, slightly crazed look that is disturbingly at odds with the inconspicuous country boy he once was.
Steve Jackson, the Mackay-based former State of Origin forward, chicken shop owner and real estate salesman, was walking through Mackay's Caneland shopping centre a year ago when he felt a tug on his arm.
"It was Bretty - it was good to see him but he was struggling to put a sentence together and I could see he was doing it tough,'' Jackson said.
"It is sad to see someone with so much ability struggle to come to terms with life after football and not being able to make that transition to everyday life. The thing is at the time when you need people you are pushing people away. I gave up the drink seven years ago because my life was not heading in the right direction. I can see how easy it is to be in a position like that."
There is a theory that while a jail sentence may seem harsh for Dallas it may yet be what he needs to clean out his system.
hard man to find
All of this is a world away from the cloud Dallas was blissfully floating on after his last game of rugby league for Wigan before a packed out home stadium in 2006.
In an emotional gesture which reports at the time said "drew a tear from every eye in the house'' he took his boots and left them in the middle of the then JJB Stadium to signify the end of his career and a memorable stint with the club he joined initially for two years before staying seven.
It is 14 years since he left Wigan, but he is so famous there that when he lands in court in Mackay the Wigan Observer often contains reports of the charges.
Wigan provided Dallas with a warm blanket suddenly ripped away when he had freefallen into the cold, chastening world of retirement at age 32.
Dallas became a qualified electrician when he was at the Bulldogs from 1992-95 and returned to Australia to rekindle his trade after retiring from rugby league.
But the global financial crisis in 2007 hindered his work efforts as the building industry was rocked to the core.
The precise point at which he started dabbling in drugs is not known, but as far back as 2011 he was a hard man to find.
Organisers of a reunion of the 1995 State of Origin side contacted The Courier-Mail in June, 2011, asking for an item to be put in a gossip item saying they had found all other Maroon players but if anyone knew of Dallas's whereabouts could they come forth with the information.
Concern for his welfare reached the point where, several years ago, the Men of League Foundation, which helps past players, was told by multiple sources he was struggling and they launched a sustained, multifaceted plan to help him.
They made house visits to him in Brisbane and Mackay, even assisted him gaining entry to a health facility in South Brisbane.
It is understood nurses at the facility said Dallas at times was reluctant to take his medication feeling there was nothing wrong with him and there were times when he tried to check out of the hospital for the same reason.
Men of League tried to line Dallas up with jobs, but he once failed to turn up to an interview.
They did get work for a while as an electrician and another time they were talking about going to the mines, but he did not like the seven-day-on seven-day-off roster. They flirted with the idea of having him link with the Mackay Cutters for game day involvement but the plan never came to fruition.
"I'm disappointed we could not get him back to normal life,'' Men of League chairman Darryl Van de Velde said. "We would love to see him getting back to enjoying life."
Dallas's North Sydney Bears teammates, chastened as they were by some of his social media remarks, also tried to reach out to Dallas. He answered some player's texts, not others, but there has been no long-lasting contact.
Moore's thoughts of Dallas's predicament are laced with mixed emotions.
"Drugs got him. Obviously he had family issues in that he busted up with his wife and became estranged from his children. Rugby league is a game which gave us a great life but at some point the game stops and we have to go back to reality of life.
"Unfortunately Brett was an example of someone who had trouble assimilating back to normal life. Did the game let him down and skill him up for getting back into normal life?
"Probably, because they don't get the skilling up they get today.
"But I always say you have to help yourself.
"Responsibilities lie on multiple levels, but ultimately your hands are on the wheel of your life.
"I have great memories of him as a player. His speed was his catch cry but he never made mistakes. He was never given an opportunity and did not make the most of it.
"If the hole was created he was through and always in the right spot.
"He was the consummate professional a coach wants - eight out of 10 every game - and you knew he would bring something special every game.
"It is a tragic tale of our society no matter whether you are a bricklayer or a doctor, if drugs get hold of you it is very hard to get a release."