Foxx on the run: Josh Addo-Carr, from breaking bail to reaching NRL dream
Josh Addo-Carr woke up like most mornings.
"I just reached for my phone," he said.
"It was habit."
But this wasn't like most mornings. Because on this particular morning in 2012, he was locked in a cell lying on a mattress that could pass as cardboard wondering if he had just become the latest in a long list of family members who would waste their life behind bars.
Twenty-four hours earlier, Addo-Carr had just finished a training session with the South Sydney Rabbitohs' SG Ball Cup team at Maroubra Beach.
But the pain of being "flogged" at a gruelling pre-season session would pale into insignificance compared to what would happen in the next 24 hours.
Not many can catch up to "The Foxx", but as a 16-year-old his crimes did just that.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," Addo-Carr says.
At the time, he was out on bail. Allowed to train and afforded a chance to prove he wouldn't just be another teenage delinquent that would amount to nothing.
"I was actually trying to do good at the time," he remembers.
However, he'd breached the terms of his bail, and the police were waiting outside his house.
"I forgot to report in the day before," he admits. "I begged them 'can I just have a warning', but it was too late."
Somewhere, between being dragged into the back of a wagon and transported to Newtown Police Station that day and being released from a Glebe courtroom the next afternoon, Addo-Carr's life changed forever.
"It was just hell," he says.
For eight hours, he waited at Newtown Police Station before he was taken 46 kilometres west to Cobham Juvenile Justice Centre at 1am.
"I was still in my Souths gear, all dirty and shit," he said. "I didn't even have a bloody shower or nothing. I hadn't eaten all day. I got strip-searched before I got into the cell and I was like 'what the f--- is this shit'."
Addo-Carr had spent a lot of his childhood visiting family at prisons around the state, but nothing had prepared him for this.
"I remember going into the cell, I had my own little cell with a shower. The TV was all scratched up and you couldn't watch it. The water was f---ing cold. It was just hell. I remember waking up the next morning, just laying there thinking 'No way am I doing this shit for the rest of my life'. That was a wake-up call. ... That night I changed forever."
The next day Addo-Carr would visit several court houses in the back of a police transport truck not knowing when freedom would arrive.
"I thought I was going to be in longer because of how serious my charges were," he said.
As it would turn out, Addo-Carr was released that afternoon. But to understand his crimes you have to go back to the beginning.
Born at Blacktown Hospital in Sydney's west, he spent his first five years in Doonside until his parents, who also had a daughter together, split up.
His father moved to Queensland to work in the mines, and his mother relocated the family to Earlwood and then eventually Leichhardt.
During that time, Addo-Carr's family grew.
"Dad's got 13 other kids," he said. "But I don't see them as my 'half' brothers and sisters. They're all the same to me."
He attended Matraville Sports High School, where it would take him more than an hour and 40 minutes to get to school each day, until he dropped out at the end of Year 9.
"I wasn't the smartest or brightest kid in school," he said.
"All I wanted to do was play footy, but they weren't letting me play at the time. I was getting in trouble in class and the sports teachers made me do all the assignments that I hadn't done. I played a couple of games then ended up leaving school."
It's then a life of trouble started.
Addo-Carr won't talk about it. But something happened with his family that sent him down a dark path.
"I want to make it clear my childhood was perfect until a certain time," he said, defending his family.
"My mum was great. Dad was great. But there's something that happened in my family's life that backfired. It's too personal and people will get hurt from it if I talk about it. But from then I went out on my own."
It's then those crimes, which would eventually culminate in him being locked up in 2012, began to pile up.
"I was doing stupid shit," he admits. "F---ing pointless, really."
When pressed on those crimes he committed as a teenager, Addo-Carr isn't forthcoming.
"I can't talk about it, brah," he says shaking his head.
"It's too bad. People won't look at me the same. I just wanted money. And I did whatever I could to get it. At first, I was basically trying to survive. I was on struggle street. I was couch-surfing with friends and families.
"Then I started trying to live the dream. Buying shit. Shopping. Some of my tatts are from the money I got. I was just having fun when I was a kid, brah. I just wanted to make as much money as I could and I did whatever it took."
Whatever it takes – the same three words NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler has been driving all series.
"As stupid as this sounds, I've always worked hard at everything I did," he said.
"Whether that was trying to make money, or trying to make a career out of footy, I was committed."
The night behind bars in 2012 would be one of the last times he would wear South Sydney colours.
A few days later, SG Ball coaches Arthur Kitinas and Willie Peters punted him from the team that included Alex Johnston, Dylan Walker and Cameron McInnes.
"He played the year before and was one of the better players in the team," Peters said.
"He would have been an automatic selection but he missed a few sessions and as a result, we decided against picking him. We didn't know how committed he was. I've grown up around Redfern and know The Foxx's cousins and family – they are all good people. It wasn't until a few years later I learnt the extent of what he went through and why he didn't turn up.
"Whatever has happened in the past he owned it. He wasn't committed enough to turn up to his footy back then. He had some distractions outside of it. But he's worked extremely hard and he's proved us all wrong. The best thing about him is that he is such a good person."
Addo-Carr was shattered but he held no grudges against those who didn't have the faith in him to come out the other side.
"I fully understand," he said.
"You don't want people like that in your footy side. When I got in trouble with the cops and got locked up, it hit me. I was going down a dark path. That night was the wake-up call. I said to myself, 'do I want to go down that road or this road?'
"I believe you make your own choices. At the time, I was making the wrong choices, but if that shit didn't happen I wouldn't be here today making the right ones."
The choice at the time was whether to leave Sydney, and his crimes, behind or let history repeat itself.
So he packed his bags and moved to Brisbane with his father and sister. He gained a greater perspective and understanding of how close he was to throwing it all away.
"I had a little girl when I was 16," he says of his now six-year-old daughter Shakira.
"I was heading in the right direction already, but since having my daughter it's been a massive motivation.
"I didn't want to waste my life. I wanted her to be proud of me. That's what motivates me to make a name for myself."
While they live in different cities, that father-daughter bond hasn't been lost on Addo-Carr's girlfriend of four years, Lakaree Smith.
"They are so much alike," Smith said.
"She does things he does. Same expressions. She's like his little clone. It's weird but they have the best relationship. She loves her dad. The first Origin she was in the stands and she was getting upset because she couldn't hug him. He basically does everything for his daughter."
To give his daughter the life he dreamed of, Addo-Carr returned to Sydney after she was born and eventually moved in with his cousin, Jacob Saunders.
"For what we grew up with, hanging out in Redfern and living through a life of crime, drugs and alcohol around us, the odds were against him," Saunders said.
"I've seen a lot of guys, a lot of our own family, with his talent go to jail and spend the rest of their life behind bars. If I'm being honest, I thought it was going to be him, too."
Addo-Carr didn't give up on his NRL dream. He trialled for Canterbury and Cronulla in the under 20s before landing a spot with the Sharks.
"I was labouring with my uncle Nigel Carr at the time," he said.
"Sometimes I'd work seven days a week. If we had a game at Cronulla on a Sunday arvo, I'd work in the morning on the site and then go straight to the game after work. Shit like that made me so grateful. I've always said I wasn't born to work. But I was born to do this."
Addo-Carr now had a completely different mindset. He knew what he wanted out of life and that fuelled his motivation.
"When he got dropped from Souths I saw him break down," Saunders said.
"He said to me 'my world is ending'. He said 'footy is all I know, I'm not made to work'. He loved the game, but for South Sydney to do that to him, it was a wake-up call to make something of himself. He promised to help his mum out. He's done that. He did what he set out to do."
Addo-Carr is the type of person you hear before you see. That booming trademark laugh fills up a room.
His personality is infectious, and has developed a cult following for the way he carries himself off the field as much as his heroics on it.
He's the type of person who jumps fences and runs up grandstands in a blue wig just to give his grandmother a hug after winning an Origin series.
The type of person who, despite admitting school wasn't for him, now studies youth work and Aboriginal studies at university in Melbourne to help children avoid the same mistakes he made.
The type of person who, when entering a room, greets the youngest first knowing just how impressionable they can be in the company of someone they admire.
In 2016, Addo-Carr was rewarded with a one-year contract with the Wests Tigers, where he would later make his NRL debut against Melbourne at Leichhardt Oval.
Just like in the lower grades, they couldn't keep him away from the tryline. But it was his post-try celebration that was earning as much attention as the tries themselves.
His fingers over his face like a man behind bars – a tribute to his family who, unlike him, were unable to turn away from the temptations of a life of crime.
"That's why I did it from the start when I first ever played grade, because my uncle that was locked up in prison bought me a car," he said.
"He bought me a little shitbox just to get to Cronulla every day. A little Volkswagen TDi. It was a little beast. I took it for granted. I thrashed it. But if it wasn't for that I don't think I would have been able to get to training and make a career of it. That's why I vouch for my family a lot."
This stick-figure speedster was making headlines. Just maybe, he would have the life he wanted.
"Problem is, in Sydney I was drinking all weekend," he says.
"I wasn't performing to my potential because I was drinking and partying a bit too much."
But the Melbourne Storm saw something in him before the rest of the rugby league world.
A week before Addo-Carr made his Telstra Premiership debut against the Storm, he flew to Melbourne for breakfast with coach Craig Bellamy and football manager Frank Ponissi, who wanted to lure him south of the border as a potential replacement for rugby-bound winger Marika Koroibete.
"We knew he'd made mistakes along the way," Bellamy said. "Guys can change. But they can only change if they want to change. When I first met him, deep down I knew he wanted to change. He wanted to make a career out of it and we thought we could help him along the way."
His girlfriend recalls "they laid everything out on the table".
"They said they were a family club," Smith says. "They said they would look after him and look after his family. In the car ride home I asked him 'what do you want to do' and he said 'I'm going to move to Melbourne'.
"He didn't ask me, I think he just assumed I would move with him. I had to transfer uni and change my whole life, but I did it for him because I knew that if we stayed he probably wouldn't have made it.
"It was make or break and if he stayed in Sydney he would have been doing what he was doing and wasted his talent. As much as he wanted it before, he didn't really take it seriously. He was partying a lot. I think it was the best thing for us as a couple and him as a footballer. It made us really independent. It made him independent. He wasn't relying on anyone. He had to grow up. It made him grow up. He's a different person now."
Addo-Carr wasn't given any guarantees.
"I actually thought Curtis Scott, Young Tonumaipea, and Cheyse Blair were all ahead of me."
And perhaps they might have been, because Bellamy had serious concerns about Addo-Carr's ability to handle the tough stuff.
"To be quite honest, and this is being brutally honest, I wasn't sure how brave he was," Bellamy said.
"I wasn't sure how he would embrace the contact part of footy. There were a few signs there watching him that it wasn't a strong part of his game.
"I told him this is what I'm seeing and showed him video to back up what I was saying. He'd have an opinion on it too and we didn't see eye to eye on everything but it was very balanced. As long as we were honest with each other we were going to make some progress and that's the way it worked out."
By round one that year Addo-Carr had leapfrogged everyone else and proved he was worthy of starting the season on the wing.
"I think if he had gone home, to be quite honest, I don't think he would have made it in the NRL," Bellamy said.
"We told him we'd let him go if he missed his family. It was our way of saying to him 'if it doesn't work out for you or if it doesn't work out for us, you're free to go back home'. It was in no one's interest for him to be here wishing he was back home."
Sixteen months later, Addo-Carr now has a premiership and an Origin series to his name.
"Belzer [Bellamy] said he wanted me to be the best player and person I can be," he says.
"The Melbourne Storm have given me everything I've ever dreamed of. My girlfriend has been amazing and supported me changing her life to be with me. I'm happy, man. Life's good. I think I've always been a good person deep down. I just needed someone to believe in me like the Storm have. They breed rep players. There's a no-dickhead policy down there, man. If you're a dickhead you get kicked out.
"Even here, anyone who asks me I tell them 'I can't believe it I'm with f---ing Brad Fittler, I'm with f---ing Danny Buderus. It's unbelievable man. My first goal when I came back to Sydney was just to survive, really. Honestly. The second goal was to make first grade. Now I've won a grand final and an Origin series. It's been a hell of a ride man. I basically started from the bottom. I'm proud. If I can do it, another kid that's struggling can do it."
Match: Maroons vs Blues
Game 3 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium
- Nine Network