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Former St Helens forward reveals battle with alcohol and police

Joel Thompson has made his name in rugby league as one of the toughest characters out there – and when you delve into his past there is no wonder why.

On the rugby field, Thompson made his NRL debut in 2008 with before stints with the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2014 and more recently playing 60 times for Manly, bringing his NRL career tally to 234, scoring 62 tries.

Last year he captained the Indigenous All Stars in his seventh appearance for the side whilst he is also an influential figure off-the-field, a strong advocate for both Indigenous voices and mental health, founding The Mindset project in 2012 and being awarded the Ken Stephen Medal in 2016 for his community work.

But, it was the trouble he would get into when he first started his rugby league career which led to the community punishment given by first club Canberra Raiders.

That punishment, however, soon became a calling for Thompson.

“I’ll be honest, the person I look back on when I was young, my ego was out of control during the early stages of my career,” Thompson admitted to the Spirit of Sport podcast.

“I battled with alcohol and things away from football, but there were so many times I would find myself in trouble with the Canberra club and even police.

“I had to get drug and alcohol counselling and a part of that was to give back to the community, but I went out and started enjoying it.

“I loved it that much that I was doing it on my days off and that was never me before – I didn’t think of others too much before that as my priority as drinking and it took a few mistakes to take to correct it.”

Thompson went on to reveal that it was his tough upbringing that initially made him a tough nut to crack.

“I found it difficult to talk about my feelings.

“I was raised by my uncles in places where if you showed any emotion you would be told to grow up.

“I knew I had a platform where I could make a difference, there were a few hiccups along the way in my career and that was a big part of my transformation to help me grow as a person and now I continue to do it.

“To know you are giving guys the advice and guidance where they can start their own careers is so good.”

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