Wests Tigers skipper Robbie Farah admitted he was dredging through some painful memories from his grief-stricken 2012 as the club struggled to come to terms with the suicide of promising forward Mosese Fotuaika.
Farah, whose mother Sonia died last year, spoke on Wednesday about how he and his players had tried to cope with the death of the quiet but popular rookie. A squad of 80 from the club's playing, coaching and administration ranks planned to leave Sydney early on Thursday morning to attend the prop's funeral in Queensland, and, as Farah noted, emotions were raw.
"It's rocked everyone here, especially the young ones who were very close to him," Farah said. "And we [senior players] were close to him as well. He was a member of our full-time squad.
"He was a quiet kid and only just starting to come out of his shell ... it's tough on all of us and the only way we can get through it is to help each other."
Fotuaika, at 20, was considered a player on the rise after he played in the Wests Tigers under-20s team. It was expected he would have made his senior NRL debut at some stage of the season.
He was found dead in a Merrylands townhouse he shared with his girlfriend hours after being told a torn pectoral muscle he had suffered while lifting weights at the club's gymnasium in Concord would end his season.
"We've stuck together as a group," Farah said. "We've comforted each other and tomorrow we have the opportunity to say our goodbyes and respects to the family and Sese and then we have to get on with things."
The atmosphere surrounding Monday night's match against the Knights at Hunter Stadium – of grief and mourning – was not lost on Farah. It was the very game he returned to action in last June after his mother's passing, and he admitted that memory still hurt.
"I try not to remember those times," he said. "This year it will be a bit different ... last year it was predominantly myself in that situation, where I had to come out and play. This year we've lost one of our playing group and as a group we're all going through the same thing, and we need to stick tight."
Emotions had run so deeply over the last week the club's National Youth Cup team coach, and former top-grader, Todd Payten blogged he had considered forfeiting the team's opening match of the season, however, he said the players wanted to honour their teammate.
New coach Michael Potter said he had never encountered such a sense of devastation in a football team before.