PRE-SEASONS with the Melbourne Storm under Craig Bellamy were the only thing that could have prepared Steven Bell for the Kokoda Trek.
Bell's NRL premiership with Manly and his five State of Origin appearances were all forgotten as the centre-come-sparky tackled the treacherous 96km journey for the Men of League Foundation.
Bell explained how surreal an experience it was to follow in the footsteps of Australia's bravest men all those years ago.
"Some of the things we saw were horrific; I could only imagine how bad it was for them," Bell, a former Emerald Tiger, said.
"The Australians weren't prepared, they didn't have the right walking boots like we had, no mosquito repellent or malaria tablets or water supplies - just to know how tough it would have been for them is difficult to talk about.
"One of the guys had a bugle and played the Last Post at the main memorial sites.
"The hairs on your arms and back of the neck really stood up which was just so powerful.
"Everywhere was so beautiful until you stop and remember what happened."
Six huge days, with 5am starts, forever walking up and down mountains take a toll physically and mentally.
"I thought I was pretty fit, until Kokoda, you would just wake up so sore," he said.
"Training with Bellamy was tough but this was more of an endless grind, it was the first time in a long time I was ready for bed at 8pm.
"Some days we would wake up and not want to walk and you would get to what you thought was the top and realise you were only halfway - you felt like crying then."
Tonight Bell will be a guest speaker at McIndoe Park, discussing mental health and demons he had to conquer throughout his playing career.
"Mental health is very important and full credit to ladies, they are able to rally behind one another and talk more openly than men, whereas we would hide it under the carpet, so hopefully this will help men get on the front foot and prevent their issues from growing," he said.
"There was a point to my career that I was worried.
"I was getting on a bit and unsure if I would make it, luckily I just kept hanging in there and it all worked out.
"I know of plenty of miners doing long shifts that really struggle with life and family, hopefully this is one way we can help."
Those wishing to donate to the Men of League foundation can do so via this link: www.everyday hero.com.au/event/men ofleague-kokoda
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