The rugby league story that breaks your heart – then puts it back together

Will Carrigan in action for the Scone Thoroughbreds.
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Will Carrigan in action for the Scone Thoroughbreds.

This is the rugby league story that breaks your heart, then puts it back together.

Will Carrigan was an 82kg front-rower for the Hunter Valley-based Scone Thoroughbreds who, from the very first kick-off, would pick out an opposition player, put an imaginary target on his chest and run at him all day.

He was the player who made the tough hit-up nobody else wanted to make. Bring down the big bloke nobody could get near. Made the desperate tackle that stopped the try.

Every team in the Hunter Valley Group 21 competition will wear specially commissioned shirts and socks to raise money ...
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Every team in the Hunter Valley Group 21 competition will wear specially commissioned shirts and socks to raise money for the Where There's a Will Foundation.

"Will came on and made a million tackles and led by example," says former teammate Tim Smith. "He ran and tackled as hard as anyone you ever saw. I grew up with him then went away but came back and played the last five or so years with him."

Says Carrigan's father, Hilton: "He was a strong bloke. All my boys are. He grew up on a farm and didn't play rugby league until he went to St Greg's at Campbelltown. When he came back he only knew one way to run: from try line to try line."

 

Smith laughs when you tell him this.

"He did struggle to get across the paint," he says. "But he did all the hard work in between. He was the heart and soul of the club."

He still is, in many respects, even if he's no longer around. Will took his own life on Christmas Day, 2015, and all who knew him still really don't know why. He was 24.

He suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier that season but, according to those spoken to, that's just a theory.

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"No, none of us saw it coming," Hilton says. "He was very close to my other two boys and daughter. They didn't see it. His mates are the same. That's why we want to stop it before it happens. We've come a long way."

In July last year, Hilton and his wife, Pauline, set up the "Where There's A Will Foundation". They are determined to make sure others don't suffer like they have.

Hunter Valley folk aren't just tough but have an unshakeable sense of community. In a year, the foundation has raised funds for local teachers, GPs, nurses and many others to undergo a range of mental health courses and initiatives. Fundraisers, events, summits ... They haven't stopped.

The philosophy is that it takes a village to raise a child. This weekend, rugby league steps forward.

The last round of the Hunter Valley Group 21 competition, north of Sydney, has been dedicated to raising more funds for the foundation and to raise awareness around suicide and mental illness.

Every team, every town will wear specially commissioned jerseys and socks. Sportswear company Zibaras has been working around the clock to make sure there's enough to go around. Jerseys will be auctioned at club functions that night or down the track.

There's a message right there to the NRL about the importance of bush footy. Accordingly, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg will make the trip to Scone Park on Saturday afternoon.

The Thoroughbreds will take on arch rivals Muswellbrook, a club that is dealing with its own pain and grief because of suicide.

Jye Taylor was a local junior who ended his life earlier this year. He was only 12. His parents, Darren and Donna, will be at the game, while his brother Bailey will take the field for Muswellbrook. His other brother, Mitch, will play for Aberdeen.

"It will be an emotional day for everyone," says Mick Reynolds, who has been the driving force behind the round and deserves every pat on his back he receives this weekend. "I'm proud to be a Scone person and be a Scone Thoroughbred right now. There is a lot of rivalry between football clubs in areas like this but everyone is so close when a tragedy like this happens."

Hilton says he'll try to get to every match but is already preparing himself for the emotions when the Thoroughbreds take the field.

As for Smith and his teammates, the emotions start in the sheds as kick-off approaches. It's been this way for the past year or so.

"It's all still very raw for us," Smith says. "You can never pick the person and it can happen to anyone. It's opened my eyes because I would never have picked it with Will."

WHERE TO GET HELP

Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757

Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116

Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz

0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.

Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.

Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.

For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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