From NRL stardom to kidnapped in Asia: How Jamal Idris went to hell and back

By Alex McLeod

Jamal Idris in action for the Kangaroos in the 2011 Anzac test against the Kiwis. Photo / Photosport
Jamal Idris in action for the Kangaroos in the 2011 Anzac test against the Kiwis. Photo / Photosport

One of rugby league's most recognisable characters has opened up about his rise, fall and recovery from the NRL.

From being a childhood star who was chased and signed by the Bulldogs, to becoming a New South Wales and Australia representative, before cutting all ties he had with the game four years later, Jamal Idris' tale isn't your normal, run-of-the-mill story for an NRL star.

While on Peter Sterling's On the Couch with Sterlo, Idirs revealed that despite breaking away from the NRL in 2015 and heading overseas, his problems did not escape him.

He became the victim of a kidnapping attempt in Ho Chi Minh City, and was attacked by a group of violent people demanding money.

"They wanted money and I'm not one to step down," Idris said.

"I ended up jumping through a taxi window to get away.

"I got straight on a plane, my brother booked me a ticket and I got straight on a plane and got out of there."

Idris' abduction by the attackers and disappearance from the Contiki group he was travelling with was alerted following a phone call to his mother Alana, and a Facebook message she sent to his Contiki group he had gone astray from.

Idris believes the communication made by his mother was the difference between life and death.

"It's a matter of life and death ... can't stress the importance of this message," she wrote.

Idris was soon put on a plane and flown back to Australia, returning a different person to the one that had left the NRL and Australia 10 months earlier.

He sat down for a one-on-one interview on On The Couch with Sterlo, intent on sharing and adding depth to his story.


Idirs was a talented athlete in his secondary school days, competing as a shot put and javelin thrower, before representing Australia in the discus at the 2007 World Youth Championhips.

After joining his school's rugby league team, it soon became apparent track and field wasn't the only sport Idris was talented in.

Weighing in at 100kg and at a height of 1.88m at the age of 18, Idris was pursued by a variety of NRL clubs wanting the youngster on their roster.

Then-Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes won the race for Idris' signature.

But before putting pen to paper for any agreement, Idirs had to discuss the decision with his 'best mate' - who also happens to be his mother.

"I still remember the first call I got, it was Steve Folkes ... he asked me if I wanted to play first grade," Idris told On The Couch with Sterlo.

"They told me I was going to play first grade and I said 'can I call you back? I've got to ask my mum first'.

"I hung up and me and my mum had this conversation, she said why not give it a crack? A lot of people don't get the chance to play first grade, it's something you can always say you've done.

"I called back and said 'yeah I'll have a game'."

The 18-year-old Idris played in three NRL games for the Bulldogs in the 2008 season, earning himself a two-year contract with the Sydney side.

Idris' career began to take off quickly, as two years later in 2010, at the age of 20, he made his State of Origin debut for New South Wales, and the year after, he would make his international debut - and to date, only appearance - for the Kangaroos in the 2011 Anzac test against the Kiwis, scoring a try in the 20-10 win on the Gold Coast.

On the outside, it looked as though Idris was on the tip of the iceburg of stardom, set for a long and illustrious career in rugby league, living the dream for any young, aspiring rugby league player.

For the big man himself, however, the fame and glory of being an international footy player became a burden on the young forward's mind.

In late 2015, Idris walked away from game, shocking the rugby league community.

That was the result of a combination of depression and anxiety, along with the passing of his uncle, grandfather and grandmother, all in the space of three months.

Being such a formidable figure on the field, coupled with his distinctive dreadlocks, Idris was one of Australia's most recognisable sportspeople, an aspect of his life that slowly began to drain him.

"I'd go out, I'd walk past someone in the street and I'd see them make eye contact and I'd stand out like a sore thumb.

"You don't know what they're looking at, you don't know what they're thinking, and then you start being paranoid.

"Are they going to try to start a fight with me? Are they going to say something?

"Then I start rehearsing what I'm going to say back before they even say anything.

"Then you always find yourself with a guard up, so someone will approach you and say something then they're faced with aggression coming from you, and you know that's not who you are."

Following a meeting with the Penrith Panthers, his most recent NRL club, Idris was no longer an NRL player.

He cut all ties with the rugby league world, and went on his travels immediately.

"As soon as the meeting finished I just took off on my travels," he said.

"They tried to call me and reach me, I turned my phone off and changed my number."

During that period, Idris describes himself as a "ball" of tension.


Idris headed off overseas, leaving the rugby league world to learn about himself and the world.

During his 10 month adventure, Idris visited 12 countries, spending time with those less fortunate than himself, listening to their stories.

It was in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City that was the turning point of his travels, extorted by a group of attacker before fleeing the country in fear.

Prior to his experience in Vietnam, Idris had travelled to the African nation of Ghana to spend time with family - his father is Nigerian.

It was there he put in motion plans to build an orphanage, having already obtained the land, and is currently going through the process of having his orphanage registered.

His desire to help Ghanaian children in need is the result of a disturbing memory as a child.

"I remember when I was six or seven years old and I was walking through Nigeria, I saw this small child the same age as me," Idris said.

"His face was melted into his chest; I didn't know what it was so I asked my uncle and my uncle said the rebels that get around throw acid into children's faces.

"I didn't understand how people could be that cruel, I was crying and that got stuck in my head."


Idris has since ended his overseas journey, and is enjoying life back in Australia.

Having recently purchased a four-wheel drive, he has been driving up and down the east coast fishing, and sleeping in the back of his car.

Meanwhile, his agent Sam Ayoub has been garnering offers from a variety of NRL clubs.

"There's been a few, obviously Sammy my manager has been talking to a few since day dot," Idris said.

"He said 'I don't want to think about it, I'll sort it out and when it all comes to a head then I'll talk to you about it'.

"To actually get that freshen-up mentally was something I needed."

- NZ Herald

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