Paul Whatuira can relate to the dark days experienced by fellow former Kiwis and Warriors league star Manu Vatuvei when injuries got the better of him.
Vautuvei, who was nicknamed the Beast during his playing days, talked about these troubled times on his way to victory in the Dancing With the Stars television programe on TV3 hours after Whatuira was the guest speaker at a FUNdamental Skills Day for Rugby League Hawke's Bay in Napier on Sunday.
"My mental health issues have been well documented. I've been through some dark times too ... and now I'm on the way up," Whatuira said.
The 37-year-old, who played 16 tests for the Kiwis from 2005-07 and experienced National Rugby League premiership glory with the Penrith Panthers and Wests Tigers, was arrested in the United Kingdom in 2009 and underwent a psychiatric assessment after he allegedly assaulted two men. Police used a Taser to subdue him.
Whatuira spent 13 days in a secure psychiatric hospital after the incident, which was reportedly related to sexual abuse he suffered as a child, but wasn't charged as under Section Two of the British Crimes Act he is exempt from potential prosecution as he was deemed "mentally ill".
Whatuira said that is one of his experiences he can call upon when conducting his Internal Strength Programme sessions around the country.
"It's important to prepare for the future. So many of our young players forget to do that. I though I could play league for ever."
"League is a cutthroat business. It's so demanding that not a lot of players make it. When I finished playing I had no purpose and passion in life and no education," Whatuira recalled.
During his journey upwards, Whatuira, who is affiliated to Ngati Kahungunu through his father, got psychology and elite coaching degrees and these days he is also learning te reo Maori.
"I've learnt the hard way. But I've also learnt you can lead a healthy lifestyle, you can build self confidence ... you can love yourself. As humans it's easy to be self critical of ourselves and when it's just you dealing with those for of issues you can end up in trouble with mental health issues," Whatuira explained.
Back in New Zealand after 18 years overseas and operating out of bases in Auckland and Wellington, Whatuira is enjoying sharing ways people can turn their lives around with audiences.
"We all choose to be the best we can be but it takes a lot of work. I feel passionate about what I do ... we just have to put the tools into action."
Former centre Whatuira praised the RLHB community for the work they did in organising Sunday's session.
"They did an outstanding job. The youngsters were willing to learn and their fundamentals were pretty good. Their parents were awesome and the big thing I stressed to them about youngsters in the under-15 age group was the importance of having fun."
"We all know league lacks the necessary financial support in New Zealand and there aren't a lot of resources, which hits areas like Hawke's Bay."
Whatuira pointed out he was fortunate to go through the Wainuiomata club when it was one of the country's best.
"The grounds were full from 7am to 5pm on each playing day."
"I wasn't the most talented player but I was willing to put in the work," he added.
Rugby League Hawke's Bay's Mini Mod and Junior co-ordinator Trace Liddington was thrilled with the success of the day which attracted 70 players aged 7-15.
"The turnout was awesome and the attitude of the players was very good. Many of the youngsters remarked how good it was to be doing something on a Sunday instead of sitting at home in front of the television."
Liddington, who is also the RLHB secretary, has formed a new junior committee which has been influential in getting the monthly fundamental skills days up and running.
"Our focus is to get more grassroots development into our region for all of our children here in the Bay and open up any pathways that we can for them. Open rep trials for Hawke's Bay Unicorns and Ngati Kahungunu Unicorns will be held soon."
Members of the committee, which is supported by RLHB chairman Kevin Tamati, are Bex Porou, Peter Ioane, Debol Savaii, Colin Hokianga, Willie McGlade, James Honotapu, Ihaka Waerea and Raun Haerewa.
The day was the second of four to be staged before RLHB's club competitions begin in August.
The next one will be on July 21 at the Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park and Liddington hopes to secure the services of Hawke's Bay's most successful league export, Kiwis and Warriors second rower Tohu Harris, for the day.