NRL Grand Final 2021 Rabbitohs v Panthers: Taaffe’s life-changing rehab visit


Blake Taaffe sat around a fire with the flames burning providing a powerful metaphor.

As the bonfire blew smoke, the powerful words shared by the men living at The Glen drug and alcohol rehab center on the central coast of New South Wales, lit a flame inside the 17 year old.

Those were the life-changing words of the full-back in the rookie grand finale.

The afternoon at the Glen was hosted by former Central Coast Roosters SG Ball coach Mark O’Meley.

Taaffe and his Central Coast Roosters teammates had been hampered 80-0 the previous weekend, ironically by the South Sydney Rabbitohs SG Ball team in 2016.

“How can I find a way to inspire these boys? », Remembers Mark O’Meley, wondering.

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Camera iconSitting around the campfire Credit: Mail

“So I took them to the Glen.

“I called the drug rehab center and asked them if they had any ex-soccer players in the center and they happened to have a player from Parramatta and they had a player from Penrith in the center. era.”

Taaffe was about as far away from Suncorp Stadium on the day of the NRL Grand Final as one might imagine. He and his junior Roosters teammates played a tactile football game against the men, who had entered the center to fight drug and alcohol addiction. Some of the men had appeared on television and in the NRL only a year earlier.

“We played by touch and it was magical,” said The Glen executive director Joe Coyte. “Because a few of the guys who were at The Glen were really good players.

“They were in their mid to late twenties. But then they shared their story that they were talented footballers and made bad choices … and now we are here sitting around this fire.

“They said, ‘Don’t you dare do what we did. Make sure you’re getting the most out of your life.

Blake Taaffe will make history playing the Grand Final
Camera iconBlake Taaffe will make history playing the Grand Final Credit: Mail

O’Meley remembers noticing Taaffe. Of all the players sitting around the night fire, O’Meley says the impact on the pint-sized rear was overwhelming.

“They talked about the bifurcation, the life decisions you only get once, so make the most of your opportunities,” O’Meley said.

“I watched Blake closely. And of everyone, he’s the one who integrated it the most.

“He took it so much, the next week we almost beat Parra, who won the competition.”

Less than 12 months later, the Sydney Roosters signed Taaffe in 2017. However, he has failed to overcome the deadlock of the club’s rising stars.

Taaffe returned to the Central Coast playing A-Grade for Berkeley Vale before O’Meley picked up the phone again at the start of the 2018 season. This time he called the North Sydney Bears under-20 coach. , Willie Leyshon, who needed a half.

The Bears were then a nurturing club for the Rabbitohs. Leyshon signed Taaffe for match payouts of $ 300 for a win and $ 150 for a loss.

“He adapted directly,” Leyshon said. “The first game I threw him at five-eighths.

“But then he trained in the back one night against the reserve rank and right away you could see the way he had come through the ground.

“His footwork, his passing back and forth, I kind of hit the jackpot.

They also played a game of touching
Camera iconThey also played a game of touching Credit: Mail

“He went through the Rabbitohs ratings from us and ‘Ogre’ (O’Meley) picked him to the NSW Under-20 team.

“It’s a great story. It’s all about the timing and now he’s progressed to the NRL with Souths at the back in a grand final.

“If he doesn’t have the chance, if he doesn’t persist, he might still play on the Central Coast.”

Instead, Taaffe plays in a grand final for the Rabbitohs in what will be only his eighth game, the fewest games to appear in a decider since Steve Price in 1994.

“I texted her this week and told her to take it all in because some guys play their whole lives to be in that position,” Leyson said.

It feels like Taaffe won’t hold back, remembering the first advice he received around the campfire.

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