Grevsmuhl's struggle a warning for all players
Chris McQueen knew that Chris Grevsmuhl was in a bad place in his personal life but he never imagined it would come to this.
Signed to the Panthers on a lucrative two-year deal after quitting South Sydney midway through last season, Grevsmuhl shocked McQueen and the rest of the rugby league world when he asked for a release from his Penrith contract to take time away from the game.
Just 23 years of age at the time, Grevsmuhl had lost all sense of enjoyment from the game but rediscovered it training with part-timers in Orange in Central West New South Wales and working on building sites.
The simple act of having a few beers with mates after a hard day's work was a completely foreign concept to a hard-running back-rower tipped for big things coming through the junior representative ranks in North Queensland who had dedicated his life to mixing with rugby league's elite.
He broke away from the demands of the NRL and while many former teammates would give him his space, McQueen reached out to let a mate know that he was ready to listen whenever he wanted to talk despite not having played together for more than a year.
When Grevsmuhl joined the Titans last month he spent the first five nights living with McQueen while he waited for his fiance Tori Moore to join him on the Gold Coast, the pair speaking openly about how he came to the decision to step back from the NRL.
"It probably was a shock that it got so far," McQueen said of Grevsmuhl's decision.
"Being so close to him I knew that he had his problems and I knew that things weren't going smoothly for him in life but I wasn't aware just how bad.
"That comes from people not being willing to reach out and talk to people.
"As much as he has learnt lessons from that I've also learnt lessons from it, to be proactive and start the conversation.
"We've seen some real sad cases over the last few years of boys where pressure just gets to them and they've done something that they can never take back.
"I'm just glad that it hasn't happened with Chris."
Admitting that he was a difficult kid to coach and be around early in his career, the Chris Grevsmuhl who fronted a media throng this week was a grateful young man eager to help other youngsters adjust and cope with the demands of the NRL.
He was given the option of not fronting the media at all – an option the old Grevsmuhl would have happily taken up – but instead spoke openly and honestly for some seven minutes about the journey he has been on the past six months.
"It's easier for me now," Grevsmuhl admitted. "There's really no pressure there. I used to put so much pressure on myself when I was playing football before compared to now and it's just a different mindset that I can go out and enjoy myself.
"Even seeing the younger blokes in the team and how much pressure's on their shoulders and the way that they stress about the game. Even talking to the New Zealand boys after the game [against the Warriors last week] it was nice to hear that they listened to the story and that they've taken a positive out of it all.
"I used to not like talking about anything that's happened in my past or anything at all. I really stuck to myself and it's just good to be able to speak to the boys and tell them what's happening and that if they feel the same way that there's people out there that can help."
Current Titans coach Neil Henry was at the Cowboys when Grevsmuhl left for the Rabbitohs before ever playing a first grade game and knew then that changes had to be made in order for him to reach his potential.
Henry needed to know that Grevsmuhl was willing to commit himself fully again to an NRL club before he would sign him and while there is still work to be done to get him physically up to speed, Henry sees a much different young man standing before him.
"A young kid with a heap of potential when I had him up at the Cowboys but wasn't focused on his footy as much as he could have been to take the next step at that stage," Henry said.
"Penrith saw enough to recruit him but by his own admissions off-field he still wasn't focused enough and he needed to get his out-of-football life in order and be able to set some goals with what he does outside football.
"No doubt he loves playing and that's a catalyst for a lot of his happiness because he is a footballer and he's certainly found that hunger to play again.
"Even though he's underdone I think you saw some carries and some of his efforts in the game [against the Warriors] that you can see that he is a footballer and he's happiest when he's out there playing."
Unfortunately Grevsmuhl was one of many young players who struggle in silence and McQueen is urging more players to be open with their problems and not see it as a sign of weakness but a show of strength.
"As men and as footy players we're expected to be tough men and I think it's something that still does go on.
"As much as we try to talk about it and say it's OK to talk and to reach out to people I do still think there is that stigma that it's not tough or acceptable for a guy to speak out.
"That's why it's good to be proactive and approach these young guys and ask them if they need help because it's a sad fact that they probably won't come to us if they need it.
"I remember my first couple of years in first grade I wouldn't say boo to the senior guys because they're the superstar players and I was the new guy and it's intimidating.
"It is a role as a senior player and one of the leaders to actually go out of your way and talk to the younger guys and be the one to start the conversation."
For Grevsmuhl, the opportunity to return to the NRL and work with Henry again and surround himself with close friends in a team environment is one he will never take for granted again.
"He's thrown out a lifeline for me and I'm going to grab it with both hands," Grevsmuhl said.
"From coming in and everything being put on my shoulders I just didn't like rugby league. I didn't like watching it, didn't like hearing about it away from football but now I love watching the game again and everything that it has to give and what it does for Australia.
"It's wonderful that it gives so many people hope that they can aspire to be a professional footballer in their own country.
"There are so many great kids out there that are really good footballers that don't get given the opportunity but we're growing as a competition and I just hope that more people get the opportunity to play the game."