STILL

When Ryan injured himself in the 75th minute of the Cronulla game three weeks ago, I must admit, I wasn’t watching.

I was distracted by our youngest who was cutting laps of the Olympic Park Room with one of the other littlies. I was just thinking to myself how cute the pair looked in their matching jerseys and tutus when Will Chambers’ lovely wife, Bianca, caught my eye and gestured worriedly towards the field.

The next minute my phone was ringing and I was asked to come down to the sheds. I’ve been around long enough to know that this is never a good sign, but I gathered my things and my offspring and off we went.

By the time I got down to the sheds the game had ended, we’d lost, and the mood was tense. I was ushered in to see Ryan lying on a massage table, and he was completely beside himself. He was in shock and devastated and he was all but sure that he’d just played the last game of his career.

I didn’t know what to do, what to say, and I was wearing light grey so I didn’t want to get in too close for a decent cuddle because, you know, sweat and grass stains.

One-by-one, his teammates snuck out of what I’m sure was a right dressing down to check on him. Most just shook their heads and gave him a cuddle or a pat on the head and I don’t think I’ve ever felt such palpable love and care for a person in my whole life.

We sat in silence as Ryan tried to gather himself. After a little while I leant in and whispered, “This is a bit like witnessing your own open casket, isn’t it?”

Finally a smile. The tiniest of laughs. Supposedly it’s the best medicine.

The point is, in that moment, it felt like the end. And two days later when a scan confirmed that he had ruptured a tendon, we were even more convinced that Ryan’s career was probably over. We were philosophical, but realistic.

In these moments, you might assume that the tendency is to reflect. To be grateful for the career that he’s had. And you’d be absolutely right, he has had an amazing career. So amazing and so well-documented, in fact, that I don’t need to detail the highlights here. Just Google it, as is my 5-year-old’s answer for everything.

But what I will say is this: at some unspecified point in the next 5 weeks, Ryan’s career will end. He will cease to be a rugby league player. But he’ll still be Ryan.

He’ll still be the chivalrous gentleman who held open doors for me and stole my heart away 15-odd years ago. He’ll still be my partner-in-crime in seeing the world and packing as much into life as we possibly can. He’ll still be the father of two adorable children who plays board games and tackles and who reads bedtime stories with funny voices and everything. He’ll still be the friend who’s there with a text or a phone call when times are both happy and horrible. He’ll still be the big brother who gives his sisters hell, but who brags about their achievements to anyone who’ll listen the moment they’re not around. He’ll still be the son who loves going to visit his folks so much, that he becomes like a giddy schoolboy when the time comes to get on the plane.

He’ll still care desperately about this game. He was never going to be a player who woke up one day and thought, “I can’t do this anymore,” because I firmly believe he would’ve gone on forever if somehow the passing of time on the human body would allow.

I also believe that he’ll be an even better administrator than he was player because there’s no expiry date this time. His love for the game is real and it’s selfless and I know he’ll thrive in having the ability to contribute to its future.

The point is, Ryan is more than what he does. In fact, each and every one of these boys are more than what they do. Their value and their identity is not dictated by what it says on their LinkedIn profile, it’s within them and I think a player’s retirement is a perfect time to remember that.

So to my lovely husband, well done on an incredible career. It’s been quite the ride. But even bigger congratulations on being an excellent human being. One of my all time favourite human beings, actually. You’ll never be able to retire from that.

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HUMAN

Hi there, Mel Hoffman here, Ryan’s wife. If you’re new to the Storm, I used to write a blog for the website but then I had babies and my brain forgot how to multitask and also how to write words good and stuff.

But I’m finished having babies now so I’m back for a bit of a cameo, the topic of which is: Melbourne Storm.

Yikes. Where to start?

The Storm is an organisation that has a reputation. Of success, professionalism, tenacity, innovation, and occasionally, of drama. It got me to thinking, what can I say about the Melbourne Storm? What is this club to me personally? The answer was simple. This club is human. Or more specifically, a bunch of humans. Always has been, always will be.

The problem is our players can seem superhuman because of what they do. Which may trick us into believing that they are not like you and me, but let me assure you, it’s just the torso that looks like a GI Joe doll. Everything else is absolutely human – unique, vulnerable, fallible and full of dreams, desires, fears and regrets.

They come with a human package – a family. Partners, children, mums, dads, sisters, brothers, you name it. These people play a critical role in the decisions they make, too. For example, when I read negative feedback about a player choosing to leave a club I am struck by this tendency we have to ignore the human side of our players. I defy any person, faced with a major career decision, to honestly say that they would put the interests of their colleagues and public stakeholders ahead of the interests of their own family. It doesn’t happen, and neither should it.

Speaking of negative feedback, I admire the Melbourne Storm approach to rise above it and to never to fight back because supposedly, in this brave new world of unfettered and relentless public opinion, you cannot win. Personally, I’m not sure I’m ready to admit defeat. I’ve thought a lot about this over the years and I have come up with one semblance of a plan: we could start a rugby league fan fiction society. Right? That way, when certain members of the public and media feel the need to write fanciful stories, at least there’ll be an appropriate forum for it.

There is a tendency for players to insist that things said by journalists and in social media do not affect them, which is only sometimes the truth. There are times when they are affected and so is their whole family unit. They might be sending their children off to school, anxious about whether they will get a hard time about the latest story in the news. They might be dodging phone calls from Great Aunty Doris because they just can’t explain to any more elderly relatives that the internet lies sometimes. Now I know what you’re thinking – they signed up for this. It comes with the territory. But their partners didn’t. Their children didn’t. Great Aunty Doris definitely didn’t. They are simply part and parcel of the player as a human.

Fortunately for us as members of the Melbourne Storm family, this is a club that recognises this humanity and understands the need for players and their families to have a community. Especially seeing as we’re so often displaced from our family, due to the satellite nature of this club. I’m often asked whether we’re a close group and the short answer is yes. We’re people, with shared interests, shared joys and shared, unique anxieties so of course we gravitate to each other for camaraderie and friendship. Are we all best friends, going on weekend shopping trips, singing and dancing Brady-Bunch-style on the escalators at the local Westfield? Nup. Not even close. We’re different. We all have different personalities, different approaches to being a part of football and we all have different responsibilities and concerns away from football. But we’re there for each other when we need to be and we recognise the need to band together for the sake of the team’s success.

So say what you will about the Melbourne Storm, the reputation, the aura, the records and the history books. From where I sit, all this was created by the humans that have passed through its doors and these humans continue to be the very best and most valuable thing about it.

All that said, we do need to acknowledge player press conference appearances. I’m 95% those dudes are humanoid droids. Nobody actually uses that many of the same football clichés in everyday speech. Hopefully they get their software updated sometime soon.