Tragedy to triumph: Life-changing calls that shaped Herbert's rise

Patrick Herbert's life has turned on a dime more than once with the simple dialling of a phone.

The Dragons' call to recruit him as a Kiwi schoolboy bound for Super Rugby, with only a few games of league played in his life.

The Warriors' call to bring him home at the end of last year, offering a train-and-trial chance in November, nothing more than an opportunity.

But it’s the hundreds of missed calls that drive him.

A fateful, tragic morning that now casts Herbert's eyes skyward before every game.

"Every game since that day, I look up before kick-off. I'll do it the rest of my career," the Warriors rookie says matter-of-factly.

"I joined the Dragons straight out of school, I left my family when I was just 17.

"My sister Teresa Mae passed away in that time just before last year, she was 17 at the time.

"I don't really know the circumstances so much, but she took her own life.

Patrick Herbert after his NRL debut.
Patrick Herbert after his NRL debut. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"One day at the Dragons I woke up to about 100 missed calls. I still had to go into training that day too. I was just rattled.

"That was something that really affected me. I took it on myself. I was thinking 'I wasn't around for her'. Mentally, it got to me.

"We were close growing up, we all lived together under the one roof until I left.

"That was obviously pretty tough on me and my family. Being away from my family, that really drew us in, we got in really tight. It was a rough time for us.

"Before every game I go out and play, I sort of use her as motivation.

"I look up to the clouds. Usually people pray to God. I pray to my grandfather and my sister. I ask them to look out for me.

"I know she's up there guiding my journey."

After three years with the Dragons, Herbert was understandably drawn home back across the Tasman.

Warriors recruitment guru Peter O'Sullivan got him there.

"My manager was in negotiations with a lot of clubs but the Warriors were the ones who were onto it and got back to us pretty much immediately," Herbert says.

"That made it pretty clear for me."

Still, it was a fair leap for the 22-year-old.

Plenty of Kiwi talent departs for Australian shores, only to return unfulfilled – to the point football manager Brian Smith is crunching numbers and conducting studies as to why.

Herbert had no guarantee of a new Warriors deal through the pre-season.

"But you could see he had something about him in the summer," coach Stephen Kearney says.

"I've seen that hunger about him from as soon as he got here.

"I think we see that drive in him out of his family. He's pretty quiet about it all, Pat asked me before Christmas for a day off training but didn't say why.

"It ended being around the anniversary [of Teresa Mae's death].

Warriors rookie Patrick Herbert.
Warriors rookie Patrick Herbert. ©Andrew Cornaga/www.Photosport.nz

"But you see that drive in him I think because of that.

"He's doing this for more than himself. That's really something, that he can work his way through it and use that experience positively."

That he's playing NRL at all draws a wry grin from Herbert.

Most of the talent that passes through Auckland's Saint Kentigern College is channelled into the 15-man game, following All Blacks alumni Jerome Kaino, Joe Rokocoko and John Afoa among others.

It was then-St George Illawarra scout Peter Mulholland who convinced Herbert to break the mould, Suliasi Vunivalu showing how as a Kentigern graduate a year earlier.

"I didn't think I'd be a Warrior or anything like that," Herbert says.

"I had my eyes on rugby union and then I got an opportunity at the Dragons.

"That was the first time I even really looked at rugby league aside from maybe a couple of games here and there. They recruited me as a rugby union player.

"Super Rugby, that was more likely when I finished school to be honest. There were a few clubs there we were talking to.

"But still I wasn't looking at it so much about rugby league, more this is a chance to get to Australia, go see somewhere new, get a taste of something different from NZ."

Five years on, and out the other side of loss that will always stay with him, Herbert got his taste of something different.

First grade. A 21,000-strong Anzac Day crowd, Will Chambers and Melbourne, the most successful club of the past decade.

"I'd heard a lot about [Will] Chambers," he says.

"He's a representative centre and one of the best going around so I knuckled down. I wrote it down in my diary, my goal was pretty simple, just make all my tackles.

Before every game I go out and play, I sort of use her as motivation.

Patrick Herbert

"I didn't even think about attack and it worked out alright.

"I got my family over to watch that game down in Melbourne. They don't really watch rugby league so to get them into the Anzac game, get them into that environment was special."

Herbert has held his place on the Warriors right edge ever since. Solomone Kata, with 10 Tests for Tonga and New Zealand, can't get past him.

Herbert will be there again at Panthers Stadium on Friday night. Just before kick-off, looking to heavens once more.

Help is available 24/7 for anyone who has mental health issues by calling Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14

For further information on the NRL State of Mind program, click here