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'Talk it out': Allan's lasting legacy in critical mental health battles

Corey Allan has got out of his own head and out of the comments section.

South Sydney's 2020 campaign has not only survived, but thrived, as a result.

Five years ago Allan did the same thing for the first time.

It kept him in the game.

And it helped spark a mental health program created by 17-year-olds in response to a disturbing trend that had rocked rugby league.

Mates Talk Change

With almost 3000 students and status as an elite NRL nursery, Marsden State High's alumni includes Cameron Smith, Israel Folau, Antonio Winterstein and Jaydn Su'A.

Allan is also among the school's proudest products, not least because of his recent progress at Redfern.

A far more important legacy was left behind by he and a handful of classmates in the form of Mates Talk Change, a mental health group started by the year 11 students in 2015.

I was ready to quit footy. I was just sick of it.

Corey Allan

In the two years prior, five young NRL-contracted players had died after losing battles with their mental health.

Francis Winterstein, brother of Cowboys premiership-winner Antonio, also attended Marsden and spent time at the Broncos and Roosters before he died in March 2015.

Fellow Logan products Alex Elisala and Mosese Fotuaika both died two years earlier, two months apart.

Allan was enrolled down the highway at Keebra Park when Fotuaika's passing sent shockwaves through the school, community, and the game.

He still remembers Fotuaika's younger brother Moeaki, then 14, now a Titans prop and fellow Queensland Origin contender, "coming into school and bawling his eyes out for days".

Following the deaths of Queensland under-age rep and Cowboys youngster Regan Grieve, 18, and former Storm junior Hayden Butler, 20, on the same Australia Day in 2015, Allan and a few senior students took stock.

And began talking.

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"You worried how close to home something would come," said Allan, who will line up at fullbacks for the Rabbitohs in Saturday's grand final qualifier against Penrith.

"It's easy for people to hide what's going on, they can seem fine from the outside but be fighting the toughest battle on the inside. It could be anyone.

"At that point we couldn't tell who it was, but we knew someone would be struggling.

Corey Allan on the run for Brisbane under 20s in 2017.
Corey Allan on the run for Brisbane under 20s in 2017. ©NRL Photos

"Especially with people impacted by some of these suicides.

"We had a teacher, Megan Mulcahy, who was very passionate about trying to change things, and she got me and a few of the senior guys together for a chat.

"We just wanted to raise awareness that they could come talk to us as a few of the footy boys. It ended up being the Mates Talk Change program.

"The touch girls then got involved pretty quickly, so girls could have a chat with them if they're not comfortable talking to us blokes.

"It started out in just our school. But then we started going around to some of the other schools in the area and other footy schools.

"And now there's an MTC footy match between Wavell and Marsden which is pretty cool to see."

Corey Allan scores for Souths against Newcastle.
Corey Allan scores for Souths against Newcastle. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Talk it out

Marsden principal Andrew Peach proudly reports that Mates Talk Change has "gone from strength to strength" in the five years since.

The program has earned praise on the floors of Queensland state parliament, had involvement from Brisbane's Anthony Milford and heavyweight boxer Alex Leapai and been incorporated into the school's curriculum.

"It's part of Corey's legacy at this school, it's still running and we're really proud of that program," Peach says.

"When you're in a really strong rugby league school like ours, those old negative stereotypes around mental health can surface.

"At a school like Marsden, a lot of those deaths were linked to our students through rep footy or club footy, a community like Logan the kids all know each other and it undoubtedly has an effect.

"To have our kids understand that and trying to take the stigma away from mental health issues is a really big stride.

"The program is aimed at putting the structure there for them to turn to each other."

'The more I talked, the better I felt'

Allan looks back on that year now and wouldn't call it struggling at all.

At the time though, he had had enough.

Enough of the early morning rises for the 90-minute trips to Keebra Park, the training commitments and watching his mates go out while he made rugby league his priority.

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"I was ready to quit footy," he says.

"I was just sick of it. We had training four times a week, we had footy training at school, games on weekends, touch footy. It was just getting too much and I was ready to give it up.

"I was struggling to find a reason. When I was younger I was a smaller kid too so I never thought I would actually make it. It was a dream but never thought it'd happen.

"So I was tossing up whether just to quit and have a social life.

"That was right around the time we started up MTC and I found I could speak about it, doubts, frustrations, whatever, and I found my love for footy again."

Rabbitohs fullback Corey Allan.
Rabbitohs fullback Corey Allan. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Now I'm a believer

When Latrell Mitchell collapsed in agony at Bankwest Stadium six weeks ago, most every NRL punter and pundit had the Rabbitohs title hopes going with him.

Coach Wayne Bennett had options in the No.1 jersey, in Allan or try-scoring fan favourite Alex Johnston.

Allan plays up Johnston's finishing prowess on the wing as the reason for his shift to fullback, rather than his own natural instincts for the role.

It's the humble, laidback nature that had Bennett dubbing him the "social loafer".

It also belies those same doubts that had him considering his future in rugby league back at Marsden.

But having made a conscious effort to ignore feedback by social media, Allan's own head space is now a help rather than a hindrance.

And he looms as a key pillar of the Rabbitohs' bid for the 2020 title, his combination with star five-eighth Cody Walker in particular flourishing right when Souths need it most.

"I feel like my teammates believed in me from the start," Allan says.

"My difference I think is self-belief, you wonder if you're up to the task, up to this level or not.

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The boys from Logan. #loganbrothers

A post shared by Corey James Allan (@coreyallan98) on

"After a couple of games I realised I was surviving, that taking on this big role isn't as bad or there isn't as much pressure as I made out to be.

"I started thinking 'I can do this', and started running a bit harder and a bit smarter and it's going alright.

"That'd be my biggest development this year, getting out of my own head. Not worrying about what others think about my game."


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


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