In My Mind: Breaking Point

To endure a breakdown at the pinnacle of your sporting career is tough. Former NRL star Paul Whatuira opens up about the unseen pressures of playing elite sport, and his journey to finding his mental well being.

Former rugby league star, Paul Whatuira admits the sport he loves was also the trigger of his downfall. Having been a formidable player in the National Rugby League with the Warriors, Storm, Panthers and Tigers, Paul’s life took a turn while playing in the UK Super League.

He entered a vicious downward spiral fuelled by the pressures of the game and providing for a family; such intense pressure that he tried to take his own life.

In the depths of his depression, Paul attempted to return to the NRL, controversially signing with the Eels; but after managing one game game back in Sydney, he accepted his rugby league career was over.

Paul's reflection overlaying a metal statue of a man and a boy hugging.

Now, he is working to give back to youth climbing the ranks of rugby league, spreading the message "it is okay to ask for help."

Only the few who’ve been in his elite position fully understand the pressures young athletes are under today, ”Social media, people expecting them to be heroes, but in reality they are just young men” he says. 

Having hit rock bottom himself, he’s trying to educate young athletes in looking after themselves and using their support networks, “I don’t have a degree in psychology but I do have a degree in pain.”

Paul hiding his face in a hoodie holding a rugby ball.

“For me, what started the downward spiral, “he continues, “was the responsibilities of being a father and the pressure to provide for my family.”

“I was in England finishing up my career, putting pressure on myself, not sleeping, drowning my sorrows. Seven days of self-harm, I was looking for ways to escape this life. The voices were telling me to cause harm to my partner, I was a raging lunatic. That’s when I spent four weeks in the psychiatric hospital heavily medicated.”

Paul punching a boxing bag.

Paul finished up his time in England and returned to New Zealand to play, but he was trapped in a negative mindset, which led him to attempt to take his life. “What stopped me was seeing this picture of my daughter, I knew I couldn’t leave that legacy for my daughter of her father taking his own life."

From there he spent six months locked away in his apartment as his marriage crumbled and he worked on himself, re-inventing who he was without rugby league.

Paul learned to be happy again, “I re-connected back to my culture, I started challenging my own internal dialogue and by challenging myself, I realised my teammates still loved me and re-educated myself about what made me feel good, which was training.”

He also focused on the reason he was alive and why he wanted to work hard, his ‘why,’ “my pounamu, my daughter, Gabrielle.”

Now he is the director of ‘Internal Strength’ a life coach business which he uses to educate up-and-coming young men in rugby league.

Paul talking to a group of kids.

Paul re-connects with past coaches and team-mates checking to see that they're looking after themselves and the young people around them.

Through these processes he is building a network of support to educate young players to ensure they get both the physical and mental training and tools to last.

After one of these many check-ins he is positive about the future of rugby league, “It is awesome to see the support they are getting, but they still need to be able to speak up and ask for help.”

The ultimate goal; Paul is looking to make a positive impact on other people’s lives, “I want to empower and inspire as many people as possible. I have the support from my family, my friends, all you have to do is ask for help.”

Paul overlooking a outdoor stadium.