Mark Kheirallah Q+A: Leaving Toulouse Olympique and joining Featherstone Rovers

Super League outcast Mark Kheirallah has opened up on his controversial departure from Toulouse Olympique.

The 32-year-old Australian fullback followed his former team-mate and captain Johnathon Ford through the exit door at Stade Ernest Wallon because of reasons he cannot fully disclose after the dispute has become a legal issue between him and the club. 

However, Kheirallah spoke exclusively to League Express’s STEVE BRADY on the reasons behind his decision and his desire to resume playing at his new club Featherstone Rovers.

SB: It must have been a tough few weeks Mark, how are you feeling?

“I’m feeling good, it’s been a rollercoaster couple of months but I’m level-headed in general, so I don’t let things get to me.

“I’ve got married, which is cool, and I feel mentally and physically strong.

“Obviously I’ve been training by myself but I live a healthy lifestyle, so I’ve just been getting more time to walk my dog and hang out in the sunshine.”

SB: What have been your priorities over the past two months?

“My priority was always to try and play for Toulouse.

“I’ve only had one focus for ten years and that was to play Super League here in Toulouse.

“But now that my position has been resolved to an extent, it has given me the ability to go out and look at all other opportunities.

“The chance to join Featherstone gives me another chance to achieve promotion and help build up another team, which is what I’ve been doing for the past few years.

“I’m excited about it.”

SB: What do you know about your new club?

“I haven’t met coach Brian McDermott face-to-face yet, but I’ve had good discussions with him and I played against Toronto a few times while he was coach there, so I know what he’s looking for.

“I know a couple of the guys at Featherstone, but I get the chance to make some new mates in a different town, different country.

“It’s a great club and a strong squad; I’ve played against them many times.

“I know what it takes to get promotion; I know what needs to be done. I have a lot of experience in the Championship and I can add a lot of value to what is already a strong squad at Featherstone.”

SB: What has carried you through the ‘stand-off’ with Toulouse?

“At one point I didn’t know what my future would hold. If I had sat back and let all of this get the better of me, falling into bad habits, I wouldn’t have been ready for the opportunity I have just been given.

“But I have a strong support group, with family and friends and especially Johnno Ford – we talk every day. So it helped that I wasn’t going through this process alone.

“The people of Toulouse have been a huge part of my life for ten years and I can’t thank them enough. I’ve received so much support and when I went to the games so far this season, I had people coming up saying it’s such a shame I wasn’t here any more.

“I’ve had a lot of people supporting me for sticking to my principles and values. People here know me and what I’m about. I’m so grateful for that because it shows they really care.

“I can’t thank them enough and the good part about what’s happened is that I feel supported by the community.”

SB: What were the lowest points of the past two months?

“It has been tough, especially when Toulouse started playing, that was my lowest moment.

“I went to watch the games and I could see where my input and Johnno’s could have changed the games purely because it’s our system and that’s the way we’ve always played, which we developed it over the years.

“When I see it not being fully utilised, it really grinds me.”

SB: What have you learned from this experience?

“I try to find the positives in everything. I’m not very sentimental, I think something happens, try to find a solution then move on.

“For the past few years living with the pandemic hasn’t made any difference because I live a holistic lifestyle.

“Because of Covid, my plans have been thrown out of the window and everything tipped upon its head.

“I’ve learned not to think too far into the future because you don’t know what can happen in the short-term.”

SB: What makes you have an opinion on the vaccine ?

“Obviously, it’s a global thing affecting everyone, but I take care of myself as holistically as possible and it works.

“In my early twenties my brother was diagnosed with cancer and that put me on this path of healthy eating and living holistically. I focused on making my body as strong as possible as naturally as possible.

“My mentality is that prevention is better than cure. Because of the traumatic experience of my brother and the emotional trauma it placed upon my whole family, that’s how I’ve tried to live my life as best as I can.

“Ask anybody, I’m the weirdo walking around barefoot on the grass in the sunshine with my shirt off.

“And I’ve no regrets, if I am sticking to my morals and values, and living the way I want.”

SB: How difficult was it to stand by your decision?

“It hasn’t been a problem. I did stick to the rules as I had a “pass vaccinal” when it became an obligation as I had COVID-19 just before that new “pass” became compulsory. So I didn’t really have to make a decision. Some people wanted me to say I’ll get vaccinated when my “pass vaccinal” wouldn’t be valid any more. But there isn’t even a “pass” any more and if there was mine is still valid. Obviously, I thought deeply about it, but didn’t have to come to a conclusion whatever my opinion is. 

“To make that decision really, at the end of the day, wouldn’t have been hard.

“Rugby League doesn’t last forever, I’ve got to think about the next ten, 20, fifty years of life and what principles I want to pass on to my kids.

“I’m not a father now but I’m 32-years-old and it’s the stuff I’m thinking about.

“I’m an athlete and I need to make my body as strong and healthy as I possibly can and holistically is the best way to go.

“It shows in my playing record; I haven’t missed many games.”

SB: Have you remained in contact with anyone at Toulouse?

“I keep in touch with my team-mates, I create strong bonds with people, which is just my personality and once you go through what we did last year, that relationship is so strong.

“What we did last year was magical and kind of strange in a sense, because we didn’t play a standard season because of Covid, but it worked in the end.

“I speak to the boys regularly and we meet for coffee.

“I don’t hold any malice towards anyone; anger to me is not efficient and I don’t feel it is productive.

“So I hope they go well, especially for all the boys who have been there for so long and some of the French boys who have been there for years.”

SB: Do you hope Toulouse will continue to grow as a club?

“I think it’s important for them, for Rugby League in France but also the game in general.

“It’s taken this long to get another French side into the competition.

“I’m a great believer in growing the game and unless you have expansion then the game won’t grow.

“Having two teams here is a big deal, so I wish everyone all the best and I hope Toulouse succeeds.”

SB: What are your ambitions at Featherstone?

“Brian McDermott said he could hear in my voice that I kind of had a point to prove.

“It’s obvious that I don’t want my career to end like this; I want to go out on my own terms and to showcase the type of person and player I am.

“Maybe Brian heard it subconsciously in my voice, but every time I go out on that football field, I give it my all.

“I love the game and I love to win, which is a lethal combination. And as chilled as I might sound, I really don’t like losing.

“I love playing Rugby League; it’s always been my passion. This past three months has been difficult because, since I could walk, I’ve been playing the game.

“The hardest part recently is that I got to watch it as a spectator at Toulouse and it has been difficult.

“I love nothing more than running out and kicking a footy around and now I get an opportunity to do it again.”

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