'Men of League saved my life'
Having played 154 games in the top grade across 10 seasons Brett Horsnell knew the significance of the Men of League organisation when it was formed in 2002 and wasted no time in becoming member No.531.
But even when he was at his lowest ebb Horsnell could not bring himself to put his hand out and ask for help, and it almost cost him his life.
The first Queenslander to ever captain the Australian Schoolboys team in 1988, life after football has not been kind to Horsnell who has been beset by medical problems on top of breakdowns in his personal life.
He will be a special guest at the Gold Coast Old Boys luncheon at Parkwood International on Friday as part of Men of League Heritage Round where he will reconnect with former Giants and Seagulls teammates, many of whom he hasn't seen in at least a decade.
The truth of the matter is that he is lucky to be here at all, a friend who noticed his Men of League keyring providing enough encouragement for Horsnell to ask for the financial and emotional help he so desperately needed.
"I thought about taking my own life and it took a friend of mine to see my Men of League keyring and asked me what it was. I explained it to them and she helped me fill out the form," Horsnell recalled.
"I didn't want to, it went against everything that a man thinks of himself but it saved my life.
"I was too proud, I felt embarrassed but it was the best thing I ever did.
"I've been struggling for several years with the injury and I'm on a disability pension now for my back and there are other medical issues that we're working through at the moment that the Men of League have funded.
"Players these days are earning plenty of money but you just never know what life is going to throw at you.
"Things come along that you just don't expect and if you need help, ask for it."
A Gold Coast junior, Horsnell's first grade career started with the Giants in the then New South Wales Rugby League competition in 1989 where he played 82 games before joining the South Queensland Crushers in 1995.
The sizeable contract he was on at the Crushers was whittled away as the club neared bankruptcy and as the Super League war raged Horsnell signed to play under Brian Smith at Parramatta in 1997.
The back injury that troubles him to this day prevented a move to Bradford in England in 1999 and more bad luck was to follow. As he was preparing to captain-coach Runaway Bay on a contract of $30,000 and a job behind the bar, Horsnell received a late offer to have a final season with the Gold Coast Chargers.
He was offered a contract of $120,000 but as his manager tried to negotiate a better deal the club folded and he was left with nothing as other contracted players received full payouts.
"In the end I would have been able to do both!" he lamented.
To date Men of League have helped to fund an $80,000 revolutionary back operation with acclaimed surgeon Dr Matthew Scott-Young along with other medical expenses and there is an upcoming eye operation which they will also contribute to the cost of.
But more than the money, Horsnell said that the greatest gift Men of League president Ian Amos and welfare officers such as Bob Honan had given him was a connection again with the rugby league community.
Throughout his struggles the former Giant, Seagull, Crusher and Eel shut himself off from the game and the people within before those involved with Men of League intervened.
"The Men of League have really pulled me out of the house and got me back on my feet a little bit emotionally," Horsnell told NRL.com.
"I'd love to thank Benny Ross, Ian Amos and Bobby Honan and the rest of the guys on the Gold Coast who I go and have coffee with pretty regularly."
Horsnell last attended a Gold Coast Old Boys function when the Titans were formed back in 2007 and is not only looking forward to swapping some old stories on Friday but also helping to form the guard of honour when the Titans run out onto Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday evening.
"If you asked me that a month ago I don't really think I could have but now I'd love to," Horsnell said when asked whether he would be part of the guard of honour. "If that's what's going to happen, absolutely.
"I've just been having a real hard time so to catch up with some of the old boys that are probably going to get a shock that I'm there is going to be fabulous.
"I made a lot of good mates when I played footy and you can not see them for 10 years and you pick up where you left off from the day before."