Sidelined Kiwis captain Jesse Bromwich has learned a harsh lesson and wants his jersey back, writes Michael Burgess.
Jesse Bromwich is dreading the upcoming Rugby League World Cup.
The former Kiwis captain is sidelined, suspended after the incident in Canberra earlier this year, when he was caught on CCTV footage allegedly snorting cocaine in the early hours of the morning following the Anzac test.
It was an extraordinary incident, for which he received a unprecedented punishment.
Not only was he suspended, sanctioned and fined by his club and dumped from their leadership group, he was also stripped of the Kiwis' captaincy and stood down from the World Cup.
The New Zealand Rugby League and coach David Kidwell were determined to take a hardline view, though the severity of their stance surprised some observers. The upshot is that Bromwich will miss the quadrennial tournament, and the 28-year-old might not get a chance to play in another one.
He's not expecting, or seeking sympathy, but it feels like the ramifications of his absence are beginning to bite.
"It will be hard," Bromwich tells the Weekend Herald. "It will be really hard. It's always tough watching the Storm play when I am not there so I imagine it will be even harder watching the Kiwis play, especially in such a big tournament.
"When the World Cup comes around I'll be putting my black and white jumper on, jumping on the couch and supporting the boys. I'll be cheering them on every minute, I'll watch every game and hopefully they can do really well."
When the Kiwis assemble next week, Bromwich will on a long-delayed holiday with his wife, after back to back tours over the last few years. Bromwich says - half-jokingly - that he waited "until the last minute" to book the trip, just in case Kidwell had a change of heart. The coach was never going to, but you get the impression Bromwich clung to a glimmer of hope.
He won't be there on October 28, when the Kiwis run out against Samoa at Mt Smart in Auckland, and will be almost impossible to replace. Probably even more so than Jason Taumalolo, whose shock defection to Tonga grabbed the headlines last week. New Zealand has also lost Kieran Foran and Tohu Harris, but no one leaves a bigger vacuum than Bromwich. He's emerged as the forward leader of the team since the last World Cup, and is arguably the best all-round prop in the NRL. He was also developing into a good skipper, after being thrust into the role last year.
That's all gone now. He could be back in the Kiwis in the future, but will miss New Zealand's first World Cup on home soil, and the tournament isn't expected to return Downunder until at least 2029.
Apologies aren't always easy, and Bromwich was heavily criticised in the wake of the Canberra incident for not being particularly proactive with his mea culpa, especially to those on this side of the Tasman.
So what would he say now?
"I just want to apologise for everything," says Bromwich. "For what I put the New Zealand Rugby League through, and to all the fans ... all the people who follow the Kiwis and have supported us so much over the years. I really didn't mean to hurt anyone or do anything stupid like that."
Almost six months on, Bromwich seems contrite and remorseful.
"I hope people can forgive me, but at the end of the day I'm human and obviously I've learned a lot from that," says Bromwich. "I've got two kids and they are going to find out one day [what I've done] and that really hurts me. And it hurts me that I have hurt the team but I know the boys will do a good job without me. I'm replaceable"
Bromwich rebounded from the depths of despair to play a major role in the Storm's NRL premiership triumph, but it's off the field where the most growth has occurred.
"It's family first," says Bromwich, when asked about the underlying lessons from his experience. "They are the people that I hurt the most. At the time you don't realise what you have until you almost lose it and to see the hurt that they went through - because they don't know about all that stuff - and to find out through the paper and media first, really hurt my wife and my family. To see what they went through when I got home and in next few months that unfolded, to see how much I hurt them, it was just heart-breaking and something I will never ever put them through again."
Younger brother Kenny, who is part of the Kiwis' Cup squad, has played more than 90 NRL games alongside his sibling for the Storm.
"Through the adversity he has come out a better man," said Kenny. "I know that for sure because he is not the same guy that he was before. He's more of a family man now and I think everyone in the team could vouch for that, that's he's a little bit different. So credit to him for coming through the other side. It was a messy situation and a silly mistake but he's come a long way."
The first chapter of Bromwich's redemption was completed on October 1, when the Storm beat the Cowboys 34-6 to win the NRL grand final. Inside the victorious dressing room at ANZ Stadium in Sydney the music blared, as family, friends, sponsors and club officials soaked up the moment.
"It's unbelievable mate," Bromwich says as the celebrations unfold. "I really can't describe it. I'm so happy for me and my family. We have come a really long way in a year and you never take grand finals for granted, so I appreciate this one."
It's especially sweet to win alongside his brother, joining a select bunch of siblings who have won NRL's biggest prize.
"We had a tough upbringing in Manurewa so I never dreamed this big," said Bromwich. "That we would be able to do this together on the big stage, in front of mum and dad and our families. To be able to do it and have them here is just unreal."
Bromwich has been Melbourne's player of the year three times and high esteem accorded him was demonstrated in the aftermath of the Canberra scandal when Storm coach Craig Bellamy endorsed Bromwich as the club's next captain.
"We all make mistakes, this one's a big one," Bellamy told Australia media. "But he's earned a lot of Brownie points here, and playing with New Zealand.
"I don't see Jesse's standing in the game, or his standing at our club, has eroded one bit from this. If I was picking the next captain here, you would probably be looking at Jess Bromwich."
But the second - and final - chapter of Bromwich's revival, will only come if he returns to the Kiwis fold.
"I'm still so disappointed in what happened," says Bromwich. "I've obviously made some changes to my life and they are for good. [But] I believe everything happens for a reason so hopefully I can fight my way back into that black and white jumper because it really means a lot to me. After this premiership, that's the next goal. I always want to represent my country, I love playing for the Kiwis and being in the camps. I'm going to really miss those boys this year."
The feeling, almost certainly, will be mutual.