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Auto Poster How the Warriors captaincy took its toll on Simon Mannering

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    Extracted from a chapter called Regaining Respect in Simon Mannering – Warrior

    While things were going brilliantly with the Kiwis in 2014, it was still a struggle with the Warriors. Andrew McFadden was doing his best, and I really rate Cappy as a coach — he's super smart and he knows his stuff — but we had some shocking luck with injuries. During the Auckland Nines tournament, Ngani Laumape suffered a season-ending leg injury. After that he returned to rugby union and later became an All Black. In Round 4, we lost Ben Henry for the season. We lost Thomas Leuluai in Round 10 and when Sam Tomkins, Manu, Ryan Hoffman and Shaun Johnson were injured, their absences all took their toll. Losing that many first-line players would hurt any team.

    As captain I took the fortunes of the team very personally. I was riddled with doubts whenever we had poor results and would wonder whether I could be doing more as skipper. I wasn't sleeping well, and I lay awake at night thinking, 'I've got to talk to him about this, and I need to bring this up with the coach, and have a word to some of the guys about something else.' It just felt like things weren't being attended to. It wasn't even my job to do most of the things I was wanting to get done, but I thought, 'No, I've got to make sure he knows that.' I was just burning myself out. Instead of just trying to focus on performance — my game and leading the boys — I was trying to do all these other things, just spreading myself very thin.

    There had been a lot of awesome highs and terrible lows in the past couple of years. But when I got to 2015, I was still on a high after beating the Kangaroos twice and I was very optimistic about what lay ahead. We had a really good pre-season then we started the NRL season with a loss to Newcastle and good wins over Canberra and Parramatta. But then, a couple of days before the Round 4 home game against Brisbane, I got sick.

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    I had a bit of a spew before the game and really lost my appetite for a few days. I got through the game (we lost 24–16) and I didn't think too much of it, just thought it was probably a bug or something. But then it became a regular thing. A couple of weeks later I'd get sick again, and I was just thinking, 'I can't catch a break.'


    I thought I was just getting run-down and it would always be the same thing: crook, bit of a spew, no appetite, blah, blah, blah. This continued the whole year. I was crook, I couldn't eat, I was losing heaps of weight.


    GETTY IMAGES

    Simon Mannering played more than 300 games for the Warriors.


    HUSKY VOICE

    In among all this I took a huge whack to the throat. A lot of people are curious about how I came to have my husky voice. And the answer is probably no surprise: I took some big hits to the voice box over the years. Throughout my career, even back to when I played Junior Kiwis, I'd get whacked in the throat pretty hard every couple of seasons. It usually came when I was defending and a big guy was running at me and I'd be trying to tackle over the ball to make sure he didn't offload. They'd raise their elbows as a bit of a bumper or a fend, even though it's not exactly legal, and I'd cop it right in the throat.

    There were two tackles that did the most damage. One was against Parramatta in about 2013 when I copped an elbow in the throat from the former Kiwis prop Fuifui Moimoi. It was pretty sore after that, so Doc Mayhew sent me to a throat specialist to get it looked at. They put a camera up my sinus and down my throat, which was fairly unpleasant to say the least, and had a look. They said there was a bit of damage and they needed me to come back to sort it out. I figured that I would more than likely get whacked in the throat again before I finished playing, so I didn't bother going back. I decided there was no point in getting it sorted until I wasn't going to get hit in the throat any more and I'd just look into it once I retired.

    A couple of years after that, in 2015, we were on our way to a 24–20 win over the Knights up in Newcastle and Jeremy Smith, the former Kiwis forward, got me a beauty right in the throat with a leading forearm, which was typical of Jezza. He's a great fella and a great player, but he always pushed the boundaries of what was legal and that's why you loved playing alongside him rather than against him. That was probably the best one I ever got to the throat and my voice has never been the same since. Some days are better than others with my voice, but I find the more I talk the worse it gets, and if I'm somewhere loud there's no point in even trying to talk as no-one can understand what I'm saying, so I try to avoid those situations. Sign language would be a better form of communication for me at times. Doc says now I've finished playing we can look at seeing if it's possible to correct it surgically, but I'll see what happens. I'd rather have what voice I've got than no voice, so I'll have a look at what the risks are with a procedure like that and go from there.

    That whack in the throat came while I was dealing with the other mysterious sickness that laid me low every now and then. I remember in the days leading up to this game against the Tigers, in Round 25, I was absolutely knackered. But we'd been hammered 50–16 by the Cowboys in Auckland the weekend before so I wanted to help the team make amends.


    GETTY IMAGES

    A Simon Mannering supporter holds a up a sign in the crowd during his final season.


    Once we got to Sydney I tried to get some food down at dinner but couldn't stomach it and just headed off to bed. The next day was much the same and I didn't manage to get much down for breakfast. We usually meet up for a team walk before lunch, but I just stayed in bed. I said to Cappy, 'I'll be sweet for the game, but I've just got to stay in bed until we head to the ground.' I stayed in bed right up until the game, got out of bed, and caught the bus with the team to the stadium. It was at Campbelltown during the day and it was stinking hot. I just felt like shit. I do the warm-up and I'm struggling to get through it. I think by that stage some of the boys realised I was in a bad way.

    Some of them went to Cappy and said, 'Juey can't play. He's buggered.' Juey's my nickname.

    And Cap said, 'I'm going to pull you out.'

    'No, no, no, it's OK. I'm sweet.' I had played games before when I'd been really sick.

    'Mate, there's no shame in not playing.'

    'No, I want to play.'

    Meanwhile, Doc Mayhew's there wondering what the hell I'm playing at because he knows exactly how bad I am and he says, 'Mate . . .' a bit shocked because he's got to let the other team know that I'm pulling out, because they've already named the team.

    And even with Doc, I was saying, 'Nah, nah, I'm playing.'

    Andrew McFadden: I remember it slightly differently to Simon. This was the second last game of the year. Our season was gone, and he was captain and he'd lost a lot of weight with the stress and the pressure. And this game, I've never seen anything like it, he looked like he was on his death bed. He got up in the morning and he was probably seven or eight kilos under his playing weight. We got to warm-up, and I knew he was sick, but he kept on telling me he was OK. Simon's Simon so when he tells you he's OK you let him go. I reckon I had half a dozen players come up to me. I had Ryan Hoffman come up to me, I had Sam Tomkins come up to me. They were all saying, 'Mate, you can't play him. Juey's no good. He's gone. He can't do it.'

    I went up to Simon and I said, 'Mate, you don't have to play. If you're no good, you're no good.'

    He said, 'Cap, I'm no good.'

    I said, 'No worries, mate,' and I went to the doc and I said, 'Rule him out, Doc.' I was going over to talk to the doc about our 18th man and Doc was on his way out to make the late change and Simon yelled across the room, 'Cap! I'm all good, mate. I'm all right.'

    I said, 'Mate, you don't have to do it.'

    He said, 'Cap, I'm all right.'

    I went, 'All right.'

    I did play and was trying but couldn't contribute much. I look back and I probably shouldn't have played. I just didn't want to leave the team in the lurch, pulling out right before kick-off. I lasted 68 minutes. I couldn't last the whole game. It was one of those days when nothing went our way, and we got pumped 50–16. Afterwards, I was a wreck.

    Andrew McFadden: And he went out and played and he made a lot of tackles. At the 70-minute mark I remember he made two or three tackles in a row and he got up and I think the opposition kicked the ball away. He just stood there and went down on his haunches and didn't move for a minute. And I went, 'Yep, I think it's time to get him off.' And we got him off for that last 10 minutes, but he had nothing left. It was one of the most phenomenal things I've ever seen.

    We had one more week, one more game to go. I didn't train all week, I pretty much spent most my time cooped up in bed, then I just got on the plane to Sydney with the boys to play Canterbury. I got through that game, which we lost 26–24. It was a much better performance from us and we had our chances to win it, but with that loss we ended the season with eight losses in a row. That really hurt. Even if you're out of contention for the playoffs it makes the world of difference being able to win that last game going into the next season, not just for the players but the whole organisation. That final performance always leaves a lasting taste in your mouth and unfortunately for us all we would remember from the season gone would be the way we finished it.

    Throughout the season, I was getting blood tests and being checked out and nothing was coming back. I thought I might have coeliac disease, which is an intestinal reaction to dietary gluten. It can stop you from getting enough vitamins and minerals, so that would have explained me feeling run-down. But they couldn't nail down what it was. During the bye week in the season I had an endoscopy. That's an examination of the upper digestive tract (the stomach and the duodenum). They put a long, soft, flexible tube containing a camera and a light into your mouth and get you to swallow it down into your stomach. The tube's about the width of your finger, so there's room to breathe around it and they remove any saliva with a suction hose. But, again, nothing came back. And as I said, towards the end of the year, I was really getting buggered and those last two games I was cooked.

    It was a challenging time for everyone at the club, not just me. I seemed to be trying harder and harder and it was going from bad to worse for me, and by the end of it I was in a bad way. I'd lost heaps of weight. I was really skinny, and this carried on after the last game in the NRL. I just couldn't eat.


    GETTY IMAGES

    Simon Mannering charges forward during the Anzac Test in 2014.


    TOM HANKS

    Then we went into the Kiwis' training camp to prepare for a three-test series in England. The Kiwis were in a good space after the success of the past 12 months, so I was keen to take part. Mooks arrived in Auckland and came into camp to say gidday and when he saw me, he was like, 'Holy shit!' All the boys were calling me Tom Hanks, after his role as the guy with Aids in Philadelphia. It's obviously nothing to laugh about, Aids, but it shows how skinny I was getting . . . and how much sympathy the boys had!

    I had hardly seen Mooks since the Anzac Test so he got a shock. He was like, 'What the . . . Who are you?'

    In the end I had to pull out. I said, 'Mooks, mate, I can't do it. I don't know what's wrong with me: vomiting, I'm sick.'

    After that, I was even more desperate for an answer, so I was like, 'Doc?'

    He said, 'Well, the only other test we can do is a colonoscopy.'

    That's when they put a camera up inside you from the other end. I'd been avoiding that. Every time Doc Mayhew had brought it up, I was like, 'Nah, I'm not doing that.'

    But I got to the point where I said, 'Let's do it.'

    They give you this laxative the night before. You've got to drink about three litres of it to clear your guts out. So I'm at home, I drink three litres of this stuff, and I'm like, 'What's wrong? Nothing's happening. Nothing's happening.' It was going for ages. I was just going to go bed. The next minute it was like that scene in Dumb and Dumber after Jim Carrey gives Jeff Daniels the laxatives and he has to rush to the toilet and he can't get off.

    Then you go into the clinic, they knock you out and do the thing. They weigh you before they give you the sedative and I was about 95 kilos and I would normally be playing at about 104. I remember the last game of the season I didn't want to weigh myself because I didn't want to know what it was. I would have been like 97.

    Anyway, they did the colonoscopy, and nothing came back. There was no sign of anything.

    The verdict in the end was that physically and mentally I was run-down and my body had just had enough. Being captain at the time, I was taking on all these extra responsibilities and in hindsight I had no control over them whatsoever, yet I was trying to fix everything at once. I lost sight of what I was really there to do and that was to play good footy and lead the team. I'd catch wind of something happening with the team and I'd be shaking my head, 'What are they thinking there?' And then I'd try to figure out a way to fix it and so on. This was starting to affect every area of my life from my sleep to my ability to eat and digest food to my energy levels and I just got completely run-down.

    I looked into stuff and some experts say your intestine is connected with your brain. If you're worrying about stuff, it can affect your gut health and, vice versa, your gut health can affect your well-being.

    After I pulled out of the Kiwis, Cappy said to me, 'Mate, I want you to take three months off. Just get away from rugby league for three months. Don't come back until you've done that. And don't argue with me. Just go and have a rest with your family and do nothing.'

    So that's what I did. It was the best thing for me. I followed Cappy's advice and just slowly recovered. I look back now and realise I'd burnt out. That year, 2015, was my hardest year in footy. I really struggled. And that was also my first year of my four-year contract.

    During that time off, I did nothing to do with footy, no training, nothing. Anna and I went over to Aussie for a week. I thought, 'I'm just going to eat and drink what I like and just be a normal person for a while.' And slowly my appetite came back.

    As far as my mystery illness went, there was nothing medical ever found. And it just disappeared. Ever since then I haven't really had any problems with my stomach. It was just the accumulation of all that stuff — the stress and worry and pressure — and I think that three months off, doing nothing, was the best thing for me, because I had pretty much been on the go with a treadmill of NRL, Kiwis, NRL, Kiwis, NRL, Kiwis ever since I had started with the Warriors, at that point, for about 11 years.


    GETTY IMAGES

    Jesse Bromwich, Simon Mannering and Jordan Rapana of the Kiwis sing the national anthem before the Anzac Test last year.


    CAPTAINCY

    After a good rest and some time to step away from the hectic, never-ending treadmill I'd been on, I came in at the start of 2016 and I started talking to Cappy, suggesting 'Maybe doing the captaincy isn't the best thing for me.'

    I was saying, 'Well, I don't know if there's any more I can do in the role.' I think I'd done everything I could, and the team wasn't performing. 'I think we should look at getting someone else to do it.' Being captain was never about me. It was a huge honour and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I grew as a person and learnt a lot about myself, but I always wanted what was best for the team. We had been in a rut since 2011 and I would do anything to get us out of it, and I was thinking maybe a change like this would help do that. The idea of losing the captaincy didn't faze me and maybe it would be better for me as well.

    Andrew McFadden: It was the end of that season he decided to stand down from the captaincy and I think that he wore all those losses, he wore all the disappointment from the fans, he wore it all. He probably didn't want to give up the captaincy, but he had to for his own health and well-being. The great thing about it was it was a big weight off his shoulders. I saw a smile on his face again.

    That was a big lesson for me as a coach. I was pretty intense back then. I was inexperienced. It was my first full season as a head coach. But what it showed me was how much he put into this club. He'd give me everything and then I'd go and ask him for more, as a captain and a leader, and he just didn't have any more. He just didn't have any emotional energy left. He gave everything he possibly could; I can't emphasise that enough. He played every game and finished the year with the second most tackles in the NRL. He made 1092 tackles and missed only 27. He averaged 105 run metres. So he was giving everything he had as a player and a captain, and I was trying to get more because that's what you do, you lean on your best players. And what I needed to do was be more demanding of other people around him. They needed to come up to his level, not him go up another level.

    The obvious person to take over was Hoffie, Ryan Hoffman. He'd already played in four Grand Finals and won three of them with the Melbourne Storm. He'd played State of Origin for New South Wales, winning the series in 2014, and he'd played for Australia. Throw in three World Club Challenge finals with the Storm, including two wins, and it's a pretty impressive CV.

    Cappy and I were toing and froing about what to do about the captaincy for a while. He was saying, 'I still want you to be captain.' Then when we started talking about Hoffie, he was suggesting, 'What about co-captain? You can share the responsibilities.' I thought about that for a while and said, 'At the end of the day, if I'm co-captain, I'm still partly the captain, so I'd rather just sever ties with it.'

    I knew the role wasn't just about football and it's all the stuff that's not football that I didn't really take to. I love playing footy, but it's all those other commitments that I'd had enough of. I get worn down by the media, the politics, specific engagements you have to attend. I love meeting genuine people who are happy to see you and are really down to earth, but it's not always the case and sometimes its feels like you're jumping through hoops to make sure you please certain people, and that side of things wears thin.

    The other thing about the captaincy is that I knew I would be exactly the same on the field as a senior player as I was as captain. I just wouldn't have to talk to the referees. So Hoffie became captain and he was very good at it, and I went back to being an ordinary player and that suited me fine.

    * Extracted from Simon Mannering - Warrior, written with Angus Gillies, ($49.99 RRP, Mower Books). On-sale now. See upstartpress.co.nz for details of Simon's Auckland signing sessions.

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