The landscape for today’s retiring fulltime professional NRL players looks brighter than it was for legendary Balmain Tigers fullback Garry Jack’s generation, who had to slog through a full-time job while maintaining their footy careers.
Garry Jack achieved almost everything the game of rugby league had to offer back in his heyday. The Balmain Tigers legend was three times crowned the league’s Fullback of the Year. He even took out the game’s ultimate individual award, the Golden Boot, in 1986.
Despite playing almost 250 games for his beloved Tigers between 1981 and 1995, 17 Origins for the Blues and 22 games for Australia, “Jimmy Jack” says one of his finest personal achievements was the way he handled the daunting transition from football star to real-world citizen.
Here, the 57-year-old Jack shares his memories of how “yesterday’s heroes” handled the life change, and stresses the concerns he still holds for retiring rugby league players to this day.
“Fortunately for my generation, we worked while we were playing footy, whether that was good or bad … It probably was good; saved us from getting into a lot of trouble.
“We had no choice. We weren’t full-time; we were semi-professional. We played for enough money to get together a deposit to maybe get a house, and if you were fortunate you’d own that house at the end of your footy career.
“But now they’re earning ten times the money we were earning. So when that finishes, to go back to a $50-$60-$70,000–a-year job, when you’ve been on half a million, or even $300,000, it must be difficult for them. And a lot of them suffer.
“That’s when the other stuff comes into play like drugs and alcohol, gambling; it becomes a real issue. It’s not easy at all.
“As a player, I think you really miss that contact with people who have to get up every morning and go to work. Those communication skills, which many modern players can sort’ve miss out on until they finish playing their footy, are a valuable asset.