Greg Inglis' closest friends feared the worst when he retired

There is a picture of Greg Inglis hanging in the Art Gallery of NSW right now.

The artwork is one of the finalists in this year’s Archibald Prize and depicts the South Sydney icon in a familiar pose: ball clutched in left hand with his imposing right stretched out and ready to swat away whoever comes near.

Much like Roger Federer's backhand, Inglis’ right-hand fend was so perfect during his 14 seasons in the NRL they could've framed it and hung it as well.

“But there’s far more to Greg Inglis than being an elite Indigenous athlete,” artist Imants Tillers explains in the explanatory note to his Archibald entry. “He’s a hero and role model to Indigenous communities all around Australia, and a community leader of enormous influence. His great act of grace is to engage with these communities. He teaches children and adolescents how to avoid drugs, alcohol and violence and how to adapt to the many other challenges that these disadvantaged children and adolescents face. Every human being is the greatest work of art ever created.”


This is the picture of Greg Inglis everyone has wanted him to be: strong, unbreakable, forever dominant. In some ways, he has been. He is. He's certainly tried his best.

In reality, there’s been a fragility about Inglis since he was first fed into the rugby league machine as a 13-year-old on a scholarship at Hunter Sports High.

The news on Friday that Inglis had been admitted to an undisclosed rehab facility confirmed the game's worst kept secret since he went missing on an alcohol-fuelled bender during Magic Round in Brisbane two weeks ago — less than a month after he had retired after 14 seasons.

Souths have been discreetly and patiently working out the best course of action for their former captain since then.

Doubtless, fans will be shocked to learn that Inglis has struggled so soon after announcing he had played his final match.

He fronted Channel Nine’s post-match panel following the Rabbitohs’ big win over the Broncos, in which his former teammates celebrated tries by mimicking the “Goanna” in his honour.

He flashed his 1000-watt smile. He looked at ease with his momentous decision. He’s bravely discussed in the past his issues with mental illness but, on this night, he looked like he was going to be OK.

Those who know him best were still deeply concerned despite Souths giving him an ambassadorial and coaching job.

In the month leading up to the retirement announcement, people both inside and outside Souths had been increasingly concerned about his off-field behaviour.

Indeed, many wondered if Inglis retiring from football, with the best part of two seasons still to run on his $1 million-a-year contract, was the best thing for him.

I was one of them. A year ago, I sat down with Inglis a week after his cranky performance — and thundering tackle on Nathan Cleary — as Queensland captain in the Origin I loss to NSW at the MCG.

He revealed how the first thing he did the morning after the game was call his therapist.

“Footy has taken over again lately and, when I was given the captaincy of Queensland, it just kept going,” he said that day. “It was a snowball effect and then, on Thursday, the day after the game, I came down. I really came down hard. I had to call my therapist and have a good, long chat over the phone. I still have good chats with him to make sure everything is in check.”

Then he offered this: “I was so young when I moved away from home. I never had any life skills. Life is easier for me on the field. Footy’s my thing. I know what to do. It’s my job. It’s where I go to escape everything from the outside world.”

Like so many players, Inglis has been trapped in a profession that is brutal on the body but gives the mind structure and routine.

Because the game's other worst kept secret is that Inglis had, in recent seasons, been humming along on prescription medication, such was the pressure to stay on the field while carrying a score of injuries.

That changed when coach Wayne Bennett arrived at Redfern in December. He refused to let Inglis play through the pain of knee and shoulder injuries with the assistance of painkillers.

Were they career-ending injuries, though? It’s understood Inglis’ shoulder complaint was bad but no worse than that of other 32-year-old players who had played more than 250 NRL matches.

Souths have bristled at suggestions they cajoled their damaged captain into retirement so they could free up more than $1 million in their salary cap.


It’s an ugly accusation. The level of self-interest in rugby league is matched only by the suspicion of others. Officials are Redfern have done a lot to keep Inglis on track over the years. More than most people will ever know.

But there’s no dispute that their football side has been an enormous beneficiary from his sudden retirement. Interestingly, Inglis’ long-time manager, Allan Gainey, has in recent months been distanced from the major decisions in Inglis’ life.

When NRL salary cap auditor Richard Gardham held a one-on-one meeting with Inglis to discuss him finishing his career, Inglis assured him that the decision was completely his.

The NRL said on Friday it had no plans to look into the Inglis’ deal while he is in rehab.

Inglis remains an inspiration for many but for all the portrayal, positioning and painting of him as an indestructible figure, the reality is he is far from it, and especially so now.

Perhaps the giveaway came last October when he fronted a media conference after he was charged with mid-range drinking driving and speeding offences — hours after being named Australian captain.

“Greg … are you OK?” one reporter asked.

Souths officials were cranky at the question. They believed it was inflammatory, with the reporter looking for a cheap sound-byte.

“Me?” Inglis replied. “Yeah, this has got nothing to do with my mental health. This has everything to do with me making one of those silly mistakes."

A mistake that was a portent of something far deeper.

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