By Matt Hogan
Not many actors would look as fresh as Andy Ryan the morning after attending a Logies after-party. The star of Underbelly and Reef Doctors absently taps his bottle of water on the table and sways his torso as if his insides are dancing to a tune in his head.
“Yeah, it was a fun night. I just sat back and watched a lot of people making dicks of themselves.” He says it with mixture of pride and relief. He hasn’t always been so respectable.
In between TV shows, movies and theatre gigs, Andy runs workshops with other actors for Rugby League players training them to deal with compromising situations and conduct themselves with dignity in their lives.
“Three months ago, I was the biggest f@*king contradiction to these guys. I had no right to run workshops on how to behave.”
Andy Ryan was partial to the odd blowout, and attests to the drink nearly ruining his career. He recounts the time he had a bender with a mate the day before filming started for Tomorrow, When the War Began. A few beers became a few tequilas and before he knew it, the night spiralled into mayhem.
When his driver called the next morning to take him to the studio, there was no answer when he knocked on at the door. He had to break into the house but when he couldn’t wake Ryan, he called an ambulance.
“It wasn’t long after Heath Ledger had died so everyone was freaking. It wasn’t a good time,” Andy says.
Rugby League has its heartland in lower socio-economic communities and Andy Ryan, too, was bought up by working-class parents on the Sunshine Coast. He supported the Brisbane Broncos with his old man.
“I was bought up thinking it was normal to have a beer after work every day. I’ve always been around alcohol so it’s no surprise it’s played a significant role in my life.”
If anyone should know the difficulties young League players are faced with, it’s Andy Ryan. Like NRL stars, he knows the downside to being in the spotlight at a young age and the traps that accompany it.
“All of a sudden you’ve got a lot of money, girls are giving you a lot more attention. You go to lots of parties and meet lots of different people and having heaps of fun. You can easily get caught up in the bulls*@t of it all. It’s so easy to lose your way.”
Andrew ‘Bobcat’ Ryan is the former captain of the premiership winning Canterbury Bulldogs and is now the NRL’s Player Welfare and Education Officer. He is credited with enlisting his namesake, actor Andy Ryan, to assist with a self-development program.
Bobcat is passionate about supporting players and is confident they are responding well to his theatre sports initiative.
“The feedback’s been great. They love it. It takes them out of their comfort zone but they get involved and are keen to learn,” he says
A theatre troupe will visit every team throughout the year and involve the players in improvisation exercises that mimic precarious social situations, making them as real as possible.
Bobcat insists that it’s not just the social situations in the pub that the program targets, it is also designed to test the player’s principles and reinforce strong, positive values as well. A lot is expected of young NRL players growing up in a time of rampant social media and progressive technologies that place them under immense scrutiny.
Bobcat acknowledges that today’s environment is incredibly testing for young players. They are often scouted from a young age and join up with clubs straight from high school. Many must move away from their families and hometowns and come into a team comprised of strangers from diverse backgrounds. They’re given the club’s code of conduct then given a minimum wage of $55,000 a season and told not to muck up.
“They’re not all bad,” Bobcat says. “Most are pretty good. Some of them, for one reason or another, don’t posses the skills to deal with some situations they’re faced with.”
The NRL is trying to assist the players in many facets of their lives but Bobcat insists the players must take responsibility for their own lives.
Former Manly Sea Eagles centre Albert Torrens says, “I look back now and wish that I didn’t go hard partying.”
Albert believes that the NRL could do more to educate players on their financial management skills. “At the end of the day, if they’re young, their priority is footy. If you give an uneducated man lots of money, the chances are he’ll squander it.”
Every club has a player welfare officer who helps with financial management but nothing is mandatory. Players must seek out help as if they see fit.
Albert Torrens admits that management of the game is evolving and now with recovery sessions and alcohol tests, it’s harder for players to kick on after games like they did in his time.
“We used to roll out of a cab at 5am from the Beef and Bourbon and drop by Beaver’s (Steve Menzies) house and pick up five pairs of boardies then go to the pool.”
At least they made it to the recovery session unlike Andy Ryan who didn’t make it to the set of Tomorrow, When the War Began. But he knows what it’s like to be young and make mistakes like some of the NRL stars have.
Bobcat’s work partner with the NRL, former player Nigel Vagana is full of praise for Andy Ryan but it seems he knows little about the acting industry.
“What are the Logies? Are they like the Dally M’s for actors? I bet Andy’s a bit dusty this morning.”