Kenny Edwards was an alcoholic when he was 12 years old.
In his own words, he lived by the streets of New Zealand. That meant drinking every weekend.
His entire professional career has mixed rugby with partying. Training in the week and getting on the booze at the weekend.
But the two lifestyles never worked harmoniously. Edwards was sacked by three different clubs for disciplinary reasons. In 2017 he pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge after pouring alcohol over the head of his partner.
“12 years old, it sounds outrageous doesn’t it?
“But the saddest thing is that it’s not uncommon, in New Zealand that’s the culture, drugs, alcohol. It’s crazy. My daughter is nine, to think in three years time she could be an alcoholic on the streets. I was doing that.
“I didn’t have a dad growing up, he left when I was young, so I didn’t really have a father figure and I lived by the streets basically. I was drinking every week, I was playing reserve men’s grade when I was 12 with my first cousin James Tamou. We were playing with them then drinking with them. That sort of mentality, it’s just what it’s like, or was like, I hope it’s changing.”
But after almost 18 years of drinking every weekend, last year he decided to go sober after another alcohol-fuelled indiscretion.
“Something did happen last year that really made me have a hard look at myself.
“I hit rock bottom basically, I’d never felt like that before in my life, getting the sack from the NRL was nothing on this feeling.
“In the scheme of things it wasn’t that major, it wasn’t a crime or anything, but it made me think ****, what am I doing with my life? I was 30, drinking alcohol and going out three nights a week.
“Now I’ve been nine months sober and it’s the best nine months of my life. I have a different look on life now. I’ll wake up on a Sunday and think about how great it feels.
“I was a bit of a ratbag when I was in the NRL, I didn’t live up to the standards of an NRL player outside of the football field, but if I was still there I’d probably still feel like I was bulletproof. I don’t think I’d ever have been mature enough to go sober.
“It was hard at the start, but getting up on a Sunday now and doing things with my family rather than sleeping off a hangover all day, the joy I get out of that is much more enjoyable than the party enjoyment. I’d been chain drinking, going to parties and drinking every weekend since I was 12 years old, it was time to change.”
The decision to kick the habit was one contributing factor in his decision to leave behind the south of France.
Edwards spent 18 months with Catalans but, in a searingly honest admission about life in Perpignan, admitted it was an unhealthy environment for him.
“It’s the perfect place to become complacent,” he said.
“I was just comfortable where I was, I fell into a routine where I was stagnant. It’s a culture where you eat lunch and drink red wine.
“You see the likes of Sam Tomkins and Micky McIlorum, they go there and put their arse on the line every single week. I think it’s more the NRL boys.
“I do have to say, I think the club is really old school in how it’s run. It’s shocking some of the **** that happens, but there are blokes there who are trying and want to change it. Mac (Steve McNamara) and Rich Hunwicks, I don’t have a bad word to say about them.
“With them in charge that club can prosper and be what it can be, because on paper with the squad we had last year we were one of the best teams in Super League.
“There is the travel factor, but when I first got there it was like a holiday, I’m sitting on the beach at a beach club drinking cocktails, my kids are there, but the decision to go sober meant it was no longer a thing for me. With Steve and Rich they’re heading in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go.
“So for me as a person I had to leave that environment, an alcohol environment, not everybody, but for me I had to leave the south of France and the red wine, but also as a player, like I said, I felt myself stagnant and as a player you always want to keep learning and being a student of the game.”
There were other factors too. Most pressingly, the future for his kids.
“I have two young kids, my son and my daughter, my daughter was always at the top of her class in Australia, this is no shot at the lifestyle in France because I knew what I was signing up for, but sending them to school there, I went home in the off-season and I had an inkling my kids weren’t learning much in school.
“My sister-in-law is a teacher and she did some tests with my daughter when we went back and she said she was so far behind it wasn’t funny, and this was after her previously being top of her class. It was because of the move to France and that was a decision I had to live with.
“It’s hard me saying this, but my son is in a beautiful school but he comes home so frustrated because he doesn’t know anything the kids are doing, yesterday my daughter jumped in the car and balled her eyes out because they’d done a maths test and she got zero out of 40. She cried and cried, so for me as a father seeing that is hard because I made the decision to take my family there. It’s nothing on the place or Catalans, but I had to make that decision to leave for that reason too.”
You quickly discover Edwards isn’t one to mince his words, no matter what the topic of conversation is.
He expresses his delight at the removal of the Easter schedule, describing it as the stupidest thing he’s ever heard of. He chastises the Australian media for their antagonising techniques and admits he never wanted to come to Super League.
“Not because I look down on it but because you only see old players go for a payday.”
So when he talks about joining Huddersfield, you get the impression that it’s for the right reasons, even if he does concede the contract is one that will help set his family up for the future.
“Germ (Simon Woolford) was the first person on the blower when I got the sack from the NRL and told me he wanted me at Huddersfield,” he revealed.
“He was still in Australia waiting to come over as coach. I kept in close contact with him after that because even though I was loving the south of France I knew it wasn’t for me.
“Coming off-contract he got hold of me and offered me a deal that can set my family up for the rest of my life. With that and the decision to go sober I made the decision to come to a club that struggled last year but had so many injuries. They had kids playing for them if we’re honest.
“When I was telling the boys at Catalans I was going they were telling me I was crazy, questioning why I’d go to the north of England, but I said to them when I finish I’m going back to the Gold Coast and I’ve got all that sun to go back to when I retire.
“For me right now as a person and to be able to grow, I had to go. I live at Lindley and it snowed, the first time I’d ever seen it, my kids absolutely loved it. When will they be able to say that again?
“It matters here, I’m here as a senior player and have to set an example and live by that example. I’ve to turn up every night and every day to training and be the best I can. I was a senior player at Parra too and getting that back, leading a forward pack, that excites me. It’s given me another leg really.
“I’m down to 101kg, I’ve never been that light playing, even in the NRL I was 104. I want to get under 100 in three weeks which will be easy.
“Last year was probably the most unenjoyable year of rugby league I’ve ever had but I couldn’t be more