FEATURE: How Wayne Bennett saved a 'suicidal' Gavet

THE frank admission by rugby league journeyman James Gavet that timely words of advice from Wayne Bennett turned his life around comes as no surprise to those who know the Brisbane Broncos coach well.

"People don't understand how much Wayne (Bennett) loves his players, and they love him," former Brisbane and Australian rugby league star Steve Renouf told Australian Regional Media when he heard of Gavet's story.  

"Wayne has helped many players with their problems over the years. We've all gone to him at times, myself included, and asked his advice on things outside of footy.  

"Even when you retire and leave the club, Wayne's door is always open to his former players."  

Former Bronco Steve Renouf.
Former Bronco Steve Renouf. Getty Images

Gavet opened up to New Zealand Herald journalist David Skipwith about his life growing up in street gangs, his battle with drugs and alcohol, and dealing with the tragedy of losing two close mates, former Warriors development squad member Tyrone Filiva'a (2012) and Tigers youngster Mosese Fotuaika (2013).

Both took their own lives.

  He spoke about his battle with depression, about his own suicidal thoughts, and how hard it was being apart from his son while he tried to make a career as a rugby league player in Australia, a career that until now has been held back by some major injuries.  

"I went through a lot of the normal pressures that young kids go through here in New Zealand, especially in Auckland," the Warriors' new recruit said before last Saturday's loss to Wests Tigers.  

"There's a lot of gang influences, alcohol and peer pressure," he said.  

"I went through a stint where I was suicidal.

"I had drinking problems real early.

"It was something I wasn't proud of for a long time. I've got a lot of physical scars on my arm here and had a lot of emotional and mental scars for a very long time."


SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 06: James Gavet of the Tigers looks on during the round five NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles at Leichhardt Oval on April 6, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
James Gavet Cameron Spencer

Gavet admitted he was almost at the end of the line, but his talent was such that Bennett took a gamble on him after he returned to Red Hill before the 2015 season.  

And while the 26-year-old played just one game for the Broncos before suffering a season-ending injury, it was a move the prop forward said had saved his life.

Bennett was aware Gavet was doing all he could to stay off alcohol, but knew he was still gripped by depression, homesickness and feelings of guilt at being apart from his son who was still in New Zealand.

The frustration brought on by his stop-start career only added to the problem.  

Gavet found the Australian drinking culture difficult to avoid, and when he ruptured his ACL at training early last season he again turned to drink as a crutch.  

"Because you've got no close family members or loved ones to say, 'Hey man, you've got to wake up,' you just end up staying in that rut," he said.    

Bronco James Gavet and young fan Maseili Tamwoy Photo Tony Martin / Daily Mercury
Bronco James Gavet and young fan Maseili Tamwoy Photo Tony Martin / Daily Mercury Tony Martin

  Thankfully, Bennett took him aside and gave him some fatherly advice.   "He (Wayne) is more than just a coach," Gavet said.  

"He is a good friend and someone I really admire. He told me a few wise words and it was mainly to get some loved ones around you and spend some more time with my son and to ground yourself.

  "His philosophy isn't to make good league players; it's to make good people."  

That isn't something that comes out of a coaching manual. It's something that comes from within the six-time NRL premiership winner.   Bennett said he was happy that Gavet had found some peace and enjoyment since returning to New Zealand.

  "We're in relationships here," said Bennett when told of Gavet's comments.

"They (players) come here and their parents trust them to you. So it's only natural that you want to care about them.

"There was never any doubt about James' talent. That was never an issue. 

"He was struggling in life to be happy and we couldn't give him that happiness here and I realised that. Rugby league is such a small part of your life. The bigger part is being with your family and children.  

"At the end of the day if you asked me if I wanted you to be a good football player or a good parent, I want you to be a good parent."  

Renouf recalled an incident in 1993 when he went home to Murgon to visit his mother, and while he was there had his jaw broken by a group of men who came to his house.  

League legend Wayne Bennett will speak at a fundraising breakfast for Warwick Safehaven later this month.
Wayne Bennett

  There were initial reports he had been out drinking and got into a fight, and understandably Renouf was worried about telling Bennett about his injury so close to the NRL finals.

"I rang Kelvin Giles (fitness trainer) because I was a bit hesitant to call Wayne," Renouf told ARM.

"The day after I had plates put in my jaw I was sitting at home and Wayne said he'd come around and see me after training.  

"I was shitting my pants.   

"We were approaching the semis and I really thought that this was it for me.   "But Wayne said he didn't blame me, and that he believed my story.  

"I remember I was very depressed, but Wayne gave me that hope and I knew if he picked me I wanted to repay him. 
"That's how much it meant to me."

Renouf said he could still remember Bennett's words to him when he first arrived at the Broncos as a skinny teenager, blessed with the blistering speed and silky swerves that transformed him into one of the game's great centres.  

"Wayne said, 'You are Aboriginal. There are lots of other backgrounds here, but once you walk through this door, you are all Brisbane Broncos'," Renouf said.  

"It made you feel proud."   Bennett's latest player project is another speedster, James Roberts, who has been sacked by two NRL clubs over behavioural issues.

Renouf said the last time he visited the Broncos club, Bennett was locked in a one-on-one meeting with Roberts.

"I approached James afterwards and said to him, 'Listen to every word Wayne says because he will make you a better footballer and a better person'."