Escape to Victory: A remarkable Rugby League survival story

Former NRL and Maori representative star Chris Nahi reveals how he has survived drug addiction and prison and learned lessons he now wants to use to help others avoid the same fate.

Heavily intoxicated, hallucinating on ecstasy tablets and carrying a loaded gun at a well-known Gold Coast establishment was how former New Zealand Maori representative and ex Gold Coast Charger Chris Nahi used to spend his days.

Nahi, who also led police on a wild goose chase after hijacking a garbage truck on the Gold Coast in 2005, had no idea that his promising Rugby League career was all about to come to a grinding halt having become a slave to drugs.

Nahi, a cult figure at the defunct NRL club Gold Coast Chargers in the NRL in the 90’s, went from hero to zero through drug use and post playing depression, with the former Maori international forward having multiple stints in Australian prisons.

“Yeah I’m ashamed to say I was a fugitive at one stage where the police raided my home in amongst the Gold Coast Hinterland due to my serious drug habit.

“I was well known to police on the coast having a reputation as a drug addict and stand over man.

“I fled my home after I heard the police trying to smash their way through my front door and then led police on what I can only describe as a dangerous pursuit, having hijacked a driver at gunpoint in his garbage truck.

“There were roadblocks set up and police helicopters after me all over the coast.

“It was absolute carnage and extremely dangerous now that I can reflect on the seriousness of it all.

“I was on the run for a week before I was captured and sent to prison.

“I had no idea how my life was about to change.”

The heavily tattooed former NRL Rugby League star had the world at his feet with regards to his Rugby League career, over which he now has deep regret.

“I lost everything through drugs.

“There is still an epidemic out there to this day, that most players fall trap to, which is post player depression and from that comes drug use and sadly some players end up taking their own lives.”

Nahi burst onto the Rugby League scene at an early age turning heads for his aggressive style of play.

“I moved to Australia at the end of 1992 I and went to play in the powerful Alice Springs competition for the Federal Magpies.

“From there I made it into the Alice Springs U19’s and A grade representative sides and in the same year, was selected for the Northern Territory U19 and A grade sides coached by former Cronulla Sharks legend Steve Rogers.

“Whilst I was playing in the U19 side in the Australian Schoolboys’ tournament, I was awarded player of the series for our team.

“From there, I was approached by scouts from the Brisbane Broncos and Newcastle Knights.

“Whilst I was in Brisbane talking to Wayne Bennett, Don Furner who was a scout for the Gold Coast region, called me to come and talk to him about possibly playing on the Gold Coast.

“I liked what he had to say and signed with him and ended up in the strong Gold Coast Seagulls Group 18 side.

“I thought I had a pretty good season before I moved to neighbouring South Tweed heads under former Wakefield halfback Geoff Bagnall.

“Because of my two stand out seasons with Seagulls and Tweed, I was asked to come down and trial with the newly formed Gold Coast Chargers in 1997.

“I ended up having a pretty good off season and made an impact in our trial games and I played my way into the top side.

“The rest as they say is history.”

Interestingly, in 1997 Nahi who also had a stint at Brisbane Easts in the Qld Cup competition, was selected to played in the one-off Rest of the World match at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium against the Australia Kangaroos.

“I was playing some really solid games for the Chargers and our team was playing some good footy.

“We knocked off some of the top sides in the competition and I heard some whispers that I might possibly be selected for the Rest of the World side.

“Eventually I was selected in the side that had blokes like Jarrod McCracken, Adrian Lam and Garry Connolly.”

Nahi also represented the New Zealand Maoris at the 2000 World Cup, where he still has fond memories of pulling on the Maori jersey with his ‘Brothers’.

The 2000 Aotearoa Maori side was littered with household names such as Tawera Nikau, Sean Hoppe and David Kidwell.

“To be able to represent my country, my people and my family’s heritage was amazing.

“We had such a good time at the World Cup and our lone win against Scotland was a thriller winning 17-16 in Glasgow, I’ll never forget that.

“The crowds in the UK were something else too, you could hardly hear yourself think out on the field because of all the singing and chanting in the stands.”

Nahi is remorseful about his past indiscretions and believes his personal experiences with drug abuse can be used to help other addicts who are looking for a way out.

The powerfully built New Zealander who now runs a successful men’s rehabilitation program in Auckland for reformed drug addicts, alcoholics and gamblers called Victory House, is living proof that if you get a second chance in life, you take it.

“The Victory Recovery Home I am involved with is a faith-based, non-profit organization that provides a residential live-in Christian environment for men who have reached out for help.

“I see these young guys come to the home seeking help and we try to take as many of them as possible, because I know firsthand that I was once them.

“The Home provides support for men in becoming self-sufficient, drug-free, and productive members of society and we make the men believe in themselves by helping out doing manual labour such as, farming and many other agricultural activities to keep the guys minds on something else other than drugs or alcohol.

“The Victory House teaches our residents about anger management, drug counselling, substance abuse support, gang counselling, addiction support services, communication skills, leadership training, mentoring, and aftercare.”

Nahi’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed with an outpouring of support from former players, friends and family who have witnessed themselves the hard work that has gone into the centre and for Nahi himself turning his life around.

“You can say my career basically ended in 1998 because I was becoming a slave to my drug habit way back then.

“I was one of those players who was living the highlife as a Rugby League player partying on the Gold Coast, it just didn’t get any better.

“I want to educate people that taking drugs will get you nowhere especially this younger generation.

“When you’re walking around the Gold Coast armed and high on drugs, it isn’t going to end nicely.

“I became paranoid and thought everybody out there was my enemy.

“I was angry at the world and spiralled out of control that I was even stealing off my own friends.”
Nahi believes that if he could have his time all over again, he would have made better choices now looking back.

“I have nobody to blame but myself and take full responsibility.”

However, when the former Gold Coast player sat in his jail cell one night, his life was about to take a dramatic turn from above.

“I was sitting in my jail cell one night and started crying as I lay looking at the ceiling thinking what have I done?

“I sobbed in a place where I was amongst some of the most hardened criminals.

“When you are ‘inside’, you can’t let your guard down showing you are weak, so I had to ensure nobody heard me crying.

“When I served time in jail for my crimes, I was in full blown meth addiction.

“The first time I went to prison, as bad as it may sound, I was famous again.

“I was someone again because I was an NRL footballer and I liked the attention.

“Funnily enough, my ego was being fed by the other prisoners who knew who I was, so I wasn’t ready to change just yet as I lapped it up.

“Looking back now I should have just put my head down and served my time peacefully.

“When I went to prison, I lost my wife, lost my house, and I was living homeless on the Gold Coast totally ravaged from my drug addiction.

“When I was I in my jail cell helpless and reflecting on how it all come to this, I just wanted to get some help and badly, but I was too much of a man to put my hand up.

“So, one night when the lights went out, I whispered to myself in the cold miserable prison cell I called home, God, I really need your help!

“It was then that I felt a presence in my cell and heard the Lord’s voice.

“I know that might sound silly to some people, but his voice changed my life, forever.”

Nahi’s spiritual side is incredibly important to him.

Having moved forward in his life, the rugged Kiwi at the ripe old age of 46, has decided to lace on the boots on once more and turn out for his local Rugby League club: Hora Hora Broncos in Whangarei.

He concludes by saying, “Just remember, if you need help, ask for it, don’t wait until it’s too late, it ain’t weak to speak.”

Amen to that.

First published in Rugby League World magazine.

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