Farewelling family can be the toughest part of a player's World Cup campaign. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Daly Cherry-Evans is with his girlfriend and little seven-month-old daughter Navi at the team hotel in Coogee the morning the Kangaroos are set to depart for England. It is early and his teammates haven't stirred but Cherry-Evans has joined his family for breakfast, the couple seemingly oblivious to the world going on around them as they play with Navi.
Andrew Fifita got married on Sunday and the next day he was checking in to the team hotel in Sydney at 7am, while Johnathan Thurston has just left his four-month-old daughter behind to take his place in the World Cup squad.
In the Qantas lounge, captain Cam Smith is not with his teammates giggling away at YouTube clips to pass the time, nor is he playing a pick-up game of cards that is being led as per usual by Jarryd Hayne. He is not even at the food bar where the forwards club of James Tamou and Andrew Fifita are eagerly loading their plates with roast beef and hot potatoes.
Smith sits alone, away from the group, tucked around a corner by himself. The Aussie captain is mesmerised by his iPad – a window into another world. Staring back through the glass are three little faces, his lifeblood. His kids.
While Smith will soon lead his team into battle in hostile conditions over 16,000km away from his home in Melbourne, at the moment the skipper has more pressing priorities. His family. To them, he is not the leader of the country’s rugby league team, he is simply 'dad'.
Behind every battle-hardened player who stepped upon QF1 from Sydney to Manchester via London for the World Cup is a family.
As the flight attendants busy themselves getting the cabin ready for take-off, the seatbelt sign flashing, a group of players are still on their mobile phones – calling home one last time.
This is the crazy life of rugby league players that the world doesn't often see. Life on the road as a professional athlete.
On television they are superheroes, larger than life. They carry the hopes and dreams of their fans and every move they make is analysed, criticised and reported. Away from the spotlight, they are people like you and me. A father, a husband, a brother, an uncle, a son. Each has his own family.
As the pilot starts talking over the PA system, flight attendants politely remind the players about their electronic gear. Phones are reluctantly put down and finally switched off.
This is the start of their campaign to win back the World Cup, but goodbye is often the hardest part.
Follow the Australian World Cup campaign on NRL.com, on twitter: @AusKangaroos and on facebook: facebook.com/australiankangaroos.