Former rugby league player Sione Faumuina was brought up in what he describes as a God-fearing Samoan family in West Auckland, but alcohol took hold and he spun out of control.
Sione Faumuina talks about getting sober and the “rollercoaster of emotions” that was his nine-year professional rugby league career.
In October, Faumuina published his autobiography The Second Phase. He says he wanted to get his story out to ‘close that chapter’ of his life.
“I didn’t leave the game of rugby league on my terms and it was important for me to finally say, look, this is what happened during my career. I’m not that person anymore. This is where I am right now in my life.”
After being signed by the Canberra Raiders in 2001, and living away from home for the first time, he says the loneliness started to get to him.
“At night I would go to sleep in my room staring at the ceiling thinking to myself ‘What am I actually doing here? I’m really lonely.”
Faumuina says he started drinking at 16, but when he got up to Canberra it went up another level.
He drank to deal with the homesickness and lack of support.
In Australian rugby league culture, heavy drinking was not exactly discouraged and he says he thought it was just how footie players behaved.
“There wasn’t too many people pulling up other players who were going a bit off the rails on the drink.”
He says it was media attention that first got him thinking that maybe he was drinking too heavily.
When an “off-field incident” in Whakatane in 2004 [he punched former New Zealand Sevens player Allan Bunting at a Whakatane touch tournament in 2004, an incident he had no recollection of] made headlines in New Zealand, Faumuina says his world was turned upside down.
Soon after another incident made the media; he was accused of assaulting a man beside an ATM machine, though charges were never laid.
“I wanted to crawl under a rock, I didn’t want to be seen in public. And it actually affected my football, as well.”
He was told to apologise and tell the media he’d never drink again – which he says was the worst advice he got.
He kept drinking and two to three day binges started to become the norm.
“Obviously I didn’t stop drinking… I was only off the drink for a few weeks and then was back on it.”
“I was young, I had a lot of disposable income, I had no other responsibilities, financially… so for me it was all one big party, I guess.
“Alcohol is not the problem, drinking is not the problem, it’s how you’re drinking. For me, I just couldn’t stop. I didn’t have an off button. I’d drink until I got to a certain point, then I’d drink some more.”
Eventually he says he felt he needed to move on from The Warriors but his request for a release was denied.
Then he turned up to a game after a two-day binge, and the next day he was sacked.
“When I got sacked I pretty much barricaded myself in my home and I didn’t set foot outside it. There was constant knocking at the door. And I’d have a little peek and it’s a TV crew. And that went on for a couple of days.”
Faumuina subsequently had a professional league career that included stints with the London Harlequins, Castleford Tigers, New Zealand Warriors and the North Queensland Cowboys.
But it was blighted by alcohol and disciplinary breaches.
“I could see my career was ending and the scariest part was I had done absolutely nothing to prepare myself for life after football. I was so scared, I was depressed. I’d played nine years professionally and pretty much had nothing to show for it.”
He moved back with his mum, kept drinking heavily and fell into depression.
Fauminia got sober in 2014 after a conversation with his lawyer about custody of his eldest daughter.
He says his lawyer called him and told he needed to make a decision – “Do you love your daughter or do you love alcohol?”
“When she put it like that, for some reason it just clicked in my head. From that day, I haven’t touched a drop.”
He says his reputation as a drinker was built over many years.
“People that know me well, when they got wind that I didn’t drink they thought it was a big joke. They thought, no, there’s no way Sione is not drinking anymore.”
Faumuina met his current partner “a really strong kiwi “girl” in 2013 through mutual friends.
“The one thing that I love about her is she is really, really honest. She’s very understanding. I just love her to bits.”
The couple have run a laundromat in Springfield near Brisbane for two and a half years.
Faumuina thinks up and coming players need education and support from as young as 14 or 15 to ensure they don’t go down the road he went down.
“Getting these boys into workshops and putting things in place that help them so if they eventually do go on and become professional athletes… they’re well equipped, they’ve got good foundations.”
He also thinks managers need to share more responsibility for their players’ actions.
Faumuina hopes younger players can get something out of his story.
“Looking at what Sione went though, I don’t want to be like that. It’s all about making good decisions and surrounding yourself with good people.”