April 15, 2008 12:00am
ANDREW Johns yesterday lauded the courage of troubled Parramatta halfback Tim Smith for going public about his bipolar disorder, declaring: "It took me 10 years to do what Tim Smith did."
On the day Smith announced he was taking leave of absence from the game to seek further help for his illness, Johns pleaded with the public to "give him some space" to sort out his problems.
A bipolar sufferer himself, Johns said he understood what Smith was going through.
"When I first heard about his decision, I felt sick for him." "Tim is a fantastic bloke and a young player with a lot of potential. But I knew he was struggling and it has really hit home how hard a time he has been facing."
Smith flew home to the Gold Coast after revealing he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 18 months ago and is taking prescription medication, with his distraught mum making an emotional plea for her son to be left alone so he can attempt to get his life back on track.
"She just told me to get him home," Smith's manger David Riolo told The Daily Telegraph.
"She was in tears . . . Tim spoke to me on Friday night after the game and said: 'I can't do this any more'.
"And that was it."
A rugby league tragedy just three years in the making.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal Smith will see counsellors at the same rehabilitation centre he checked into late last year, amid serious fears of self-harm.
It was first revealed in December that Smith suffered from depression and yesterday he bravely confessed to his bipolar diagnosis.
Choking back tears, a clearly devastated Smith fronted the media to read a prepared statement.
"I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 18 months ago and in this time have been seeking professional advice and taking prescribed medication to try and help me deal with the day-to-day life of someone with bipolar.
"I am not using bipolar disorder as an excuse for anything that has happened in the past or my decision today.
"However I am not coping with the constant media pressure and public scrutiny.
"The hardest thing about this has been telling my teammates, who have been extremely supportive and understanding, as well as the Parramatta club, and my family and close friends."
And as for his days of playing rugby league again, well, right now it remains a long way off.
Manager Riolo revealed Smith had broken down in tears after the announcement.
"It's the best he has been for ages when he went into the club and said, 'Hey, I have got bipolar . . . I'm out of here'," Riolo said.
"It was like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He broke down in tears at one stage but he even managed a smile late this arvo.
"He just hasn't been himself."
An emotional Michael Hagan described Smith's shock decision to stand down indefinitely as "brave yet sad".
Hagan spoke passionately about Smith's announcement - while revealing his former halfback's fragile mental state.
"I think it's sad but Tim has made a very brave decision," Hagan said.
"He isn't coping with the demands of our game because of what he is suffering from.
"Tim has had on-going pressure and has felt down for a long time.
"The pressure and criticism has been the culmination of things. We have to deal with it and what it means to Tim and the team."
Hagan stressed Smith had made the right decision for himself - and for the Parramatta club.
"He's arrived at a decision that is best for him," Hagan said. "That's to be admired.
"He hasn't blamed bipolar on his behaviour. As I said, he's made a brave decision to step away."
Hagan was non-committal when asked whether he felt Smith could overcome his problems and return to the NRL.
"Steer me away from that one. That's not for me to say. You'd have to ask Tim," he said.
"But he has been through an awful lot so he'll have to weigh up things very carefully."
Asked did media scrutiny affect Smith's decision, Hagan said: "I think the pressure and criticism placed on him has been totally unfair. Now that Tim has spoken about his bipolar, it may allow people to understand that he needs on-going help. We're not looking to blame anyone."
With Smith now unavailable, Hagan will today name Brett Finch at halfback with Feleti Mateo at five-eighth for Friday night's match against Manly at Parramatta Stadium.
Asked what Smith's decision meant to the football team, Hagan said: "It means we are without a halfback but we'll get ourselves in order for the game."
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