Manu Vatuvei's children were bullied at school in fallout from pills scandal.

Heartbroken Warriors legend Manu Vatuvei admits he came close to quitting the NRL to protect his family from the fallout of the prescription pills scandal that has engulfed the club over the past month.

In a raw and emotional interview, Vatuvei revealed his anguish over the fact his loved ones have been the target of public abuse.

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Intense personal regret, shame and embarrassment over his involvement were made unbearable when he saw the toll the negative attention was having on his family - wife Jenny Ka and their daughters Makayla, Savannah, Eva and baby Aaliyah.


The 30-year-old was forced to take a week's medical leave when pushed to "breaking point" after making an emotional social media post and then reacting angrily to criticism from online trolls.

He was left heartbroken when his children were subjected to schoolyard bullying.

"That's the toughest thing, when your kids come home crying," Vatuvei tells Tony Veitch in a wide-ranging interview to be aired on Newstalk ZB today.

"I was at a breaking point at that time [of the social media spat] with all the things that were being said about me. It not only hurts me but it hurts my family, too.

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"They [family] read a lot of it and get worried about me all the time. I hate to see them hurt and feel down about what I've done. I hate putting my family into a lot of stress and when they get stressed, I get stressed and it really hurts me a lot.

"I try to protect them and deal with it, to take that out of their life, and that's why I get really protective and I break down."

At his lowest ebb, he considered giving the game away for his own health and his family's well-being.

But quitting was not in his nature and he insists his love for the club he first joined as a 14-year-old remains as strong as ever.

"At that point I did [consider quitting the game]," he said. "I'd had enough of it, especially with all the flak that we've been getting and putting my family under all that pressure.

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"I never want to quit on the club. I want to finish my career on a high and I owe the club a lot. They've stuck with me through the highs and lows and I've just got to do my best and finish whenever I think it's ready."

I was at a breaking point with all the things that were being said about me. It not only hurts me but it hurts my family, too.


Vatuvei is steering clear of social media for the immediate future after trolls launched personal attacks.

Last night, a leading sports psychologist warned that cyber-bullying of sports heroes was a growing problem that could have serious consequences.

"Some of it can be quite abusive and ill-considered," said Professor Gary Hermansson. "Then someone else jumps on and escalates it. It's like a contamination effect that goes on. It's hard for [victims] to maintain a grounding."

Professor Hermansson, who is travelling to the Rio 2016 Games for his fifth Olympics as Kiwi team psychologist, said he had seen cases where athletes had self-harmed, and he warned people to back off.

"Destructiveness can come about by what people are dumping on you."

Vatuvei is no stranger to criticism from media and fans but, until recently, his detractors had focused on his perceived playing deficiencies.

That all changed when he and five other Warriors were disciplined after a late night out on the town. Vatuvei was among four who admitted mixing pills with energy drinks.

He is reluctant to discuss the night but said the group needed an escape after returning home following the team's embarrassing 42-0 Anzac Day defeat to Melbourne.

"What we did on that night, going out, was just getting away from things and just relaxing and just trying to take our mind off things."

Vatuvei was also a member of New Zealand's 2013 World Cup side that came under scrutiny when it was revealed some players had taken sleeping pills and energy drinks.

He would not clarify the extent of the problems that undermined that campaign but hinted drug abuse was prevalent in the game at that time.

While painkillers are essential to aiding recovery from injuries or surgery, he insists players are aware of the dangers of using prescribed medication recreationally.

"But that's something that the boys want to do. That's part of their thing or how they deal with things.

"That's something you've got to take when you come out of surgery and it gives you relief, but there's no point in your life you want to get all addicted to that stuff and there's other ways you can do it (cope)."

- additional reporting: Simon Plumb