The latest chapter in one of the saddest stories in Australian sport was played out in a near empty courtroom in northern Queensland last week.
Former NRL star Brett Dallas wasn’t in Mackay Magistrates court last Friday to hear his bail application denied on a raft of drugs and theft charges. He was behind bars in the jail cell where he has been confined for the past seven months.
The charges, which also include breaching bail, contravening a domestic violence order and a weapons offence, are the latest in a long list of alleged offences which have tried the patience of legal authorities to breaking point and could see Dallas jailed for up to 25 years.
Should that happen when the charges are tried in the Queensland Supreme Court later this year, it will cap a stunning fall from grace for the 46-year-old former Test player and Queensland Origin golden boy who has become a pariah in the local community that once lauded him as a favourite son.
Dallas isn’t the first former sports star to descend into a mire of drugs and crime, and he won’t be the last, but according to his former teammates, he was the most unlikely of candidates to ever become a cautionary tale.
Brett Dallas (left) isn’t the first former sports star to descend into a mire of drugs and crime, and he won’t be the last
Joining the Canterbury Bulldogs straight after graduating from Mackay’s St Patrick’s College in 1992, Dallas soon established himself as one of the most promising players in the game.
An exceptionally fast winger with a high work-rate and professional attitude, within 12 months he debuted for Queensland at the age of 18 years and 225 days, making him at the time the state’s youngest-ever Origin player.
When the game split in 1995, Dallas chose to stay with the ARL, leaving the Super League-aligned Bulldogs to join the North Sydney Bears after 43 games and 18 tries.
That decision, which saw him become one of the highest paid players in the game, also enabled him to achieve the highlight of his career as part of the Paul Vautin-coached ‘Neville Nobodies’ Maroons side which upset the star-studded NSW Blues 3-nil that season.
One of the most memorable tries in Origin history was when Dallas scorched away untouched on a 90-metre run to the line to seal the series in Game II at the MCG, as Vautin and the Maroons’ legendary manager Dick ‘Tosser’ Turner embraced on the sideline.
‘It’s iconic,’ says Ben Ikin of that often-replayed footage. ‘It was how you’d like to be remembered.’
Dallas debuted for Queensland at the age of 18 years and 225 days, making him at the time the state’s youngest-ever Origin player
Ikin, who broke Dallas’s record as the youngest-ever Maroon when chosen for that series, also played alongside the flame-haired speedster at the Bears.
‘We lived in the same apartment block and we became really close,’ he said. ‘We weren’t sharing a place but we might as well have been. We did everything together.
Dallas joined the North Sydney Bears in 1995
‘He was a good bloke and a great player. He was always very organised and worked hard on his game. He was very quick and looked after himself physically. He was a well put together guy, a real specimen.
‘Around the club he was a quiet, shy sort of bloke. He wasn’t what you’d call an Alpha male type. He never pushed himself or big noted, but he had a strong sense of self which isn’t always typical in a football club.
‘We got to be very close mates. I wouldn’t say either of us delved very deeply into what the other was thinking.
‘We were just a couple of young blokes living in the moment. It was only distance that separated us. He left to go and play in England and we drifted apart.’
Dallas joined top UK club Wigan in 2000 on what was supposed to be a two-year contract. He ended up playing 156 games and scoring 89 tries over seven seasons for the club.
Like Ikin, most of Dallas’s North Sydney and Queensland team-mates lost contact with him over that period, but worrying reports began filtering back from the UK.
Although he had qualified as an electrician during his time at the Bulldogs, Dallas found it hard to adjust to life away from rugby league
He was known to have split with his partner, who returned to Australia with their children, and there were rumours he was using performance enhancing drugs after a string of injuries.
Very popular with the Wigan supporters, he played his last game for the club at the end of the 2006 season and left his boots in the centre of the home ground in a symbolic gesture before flying home to Australia and an uncertain future.
Although he had qualified as an electrician during his time at the Bulldogs, Dallas found it hard to adjust to life away from rugby league – a common phenomenon, according to his former Queensland and North Sydney team-mate Gary Larson.
‘Life in a football club is very regimented,’ he said. ‘Everything is structured. Things are all laid out. You know where you have to be and when you have to be there, then suddenly you retire and you’re on your own.
‘You’re thinking “what am I going to do now?” It’s easy to fall in with the wrong people and go down a bad path.’
The Men of League organisation tried to find Dallas employment as an electrician
Word soon spread around rugby league circles that Dallas had done just that. There was talk that he was mixing with a bad crowd and hooked on drugs, reportedly initially cocaine and then ice.
The proceeds from his lucrative league contracts were long gone and he collected Centrelink payments. Ex-teammates who spotted him in Brisbane and then later when he returned to Mackay, were shocked at what they saw.
‘It’s tough,’ Larson said. ‘Some players leave the game very healthy and some don’t, but the other side of it is that if you’re part of a football club you’re part of a family. If you need help you only have to ask and you’ll get it.
‘Brett never asked, and when people tried to help him he pushed them away. I know it was hard for him.
‘He’d gone straight from school to the Bulldogs, and he was on big money for a lot of years, but he had that electrician trade behind him, which is more than a lot of ex-players do.
The proceeds from his lucrative league contracts were long gone and he collected Centrelink payments. Ex-teammates who spotted him in Brisbane and then later when he returned to Mackay were shocked at what they saw
‘When he started doing it tough, he had plenty of people willing to help but he turned them away.’
Among them was the Men of League organisation which tried to find Dallas employment as an electrician, and when it became obvious that, due to his drug dependency, he was in no fit state to work, helped him into a rehabilitation clinic which also proved unsuccessful.
It then seemed like he had gone off the grid.
In 2015 the Bulldogs posted an online message asking anyone knowing Dallas’s whereabouts to contact them, and that same year the Maroons’ 1995 team placed a notice in the Courier-Mail when he failed to reply to invitations to a reunion.
Individually ex-teammates, including Ben Ikin, reached out.
Individually ex-teammates, including Ben Ikin who played alongside Dallas, reached out
‘I heard bits and pieces,’ Ikin said. ‘It was pretty well known that he was struggling. I tried to connect but he wasn’t open to it. Like everyone else I just had to watch it unfold.’
In recent years newspapers have regularly covered reports of Dallas’s court appearances in Mackay.
By January last year he had been charged with over 10 stealing offences, mainly of clothes, furniture and electronic equipment including board shorts, a coffee table and mobile phone charger.
At the same time his online behaviour became more irrational, with a number of bizarre social media rants and worrying photographic posts alienating him from many in the rugby league community.
Several attacks on former Norths teammate and current club CEO Greg Florimo did little to help his cause with former Bears.
Very popular with the Wigan supporters, he played his last game for the club at the end of the 2006 season and left his boots in the centre of the home ground in a symbolic gesture before flying home to Australia and an uncertain future
‘No-one does more to help ex-players than Flo,’ Larson said. ‘He’s always there for anyone in trouble. He goes to visit players from the 1960s who have dementia. For Brett to post this stuff saying, “where are you now that I need you?” is just wrong.’
During his regular court appearances Dallas was repeatedly warned that his continued descent into drugs and crime was leading inevitably towards a custodial sentence.
Mackay magistrate Damien Dwyer told him in January: ‘The last thing anyone wants is for you to go to prison but unless you can show me that the community is safe, I’m looking at prison.
‘Enough is enough. Whatever the difficulty is, you’ve got to sort it now.’
Six months later Dallas was back in police custody, this time facing charges far more serious than stealing board shorts or a coffee table, including possession and supply of ice, possessing ketamine and producing cannabis.
During his regular court appearances Dallas was repeatedly warned that his continued descent into drugs and crime was leading inevitably towards a custodial sentence
He was also charged with stealing, possessing drug utensils and property suspected to be the proceeds of crime, breaching bail, contravening police directions, contravening a domestic violence order and a weapons offence.
Having now graduated from petty crime to the Queensland Supreme Court, it is questionable whether the former local hero will be afforded the latitude he has enjoyed in his old hometown.
But no matter what the outcome of Dallas’s latest run-in with the law, Gary Larson says his old team-mates will never give up on him.
‘The NRL and AFL are now very aware of players’ welfare,’ he said. ‘There are a lot of programs dealing with mental health and that is where Brett’s problems lie. His mind is messed up. He is sick, unwell.
‘It is just so sad, but there are a lot of people wanting to help him. He just has to ask.’
Source: Daily Mail Australia | World News