Friends talk about the loss of good mate, Alex Elisala
HE was a kind soul, great friend, cheeky as hell and a brilliant football player.
These were the words Cutters players Michael Morgan and Anthony Mitchell used to describe their mate, Alex Elisala, who took his own life in April this year.
Tomorrow they will both run on to play the Easts Tigers in the Intrust Super Cup decider, the number 14 jersey sits retired in Alex's honour.
The young men speak of Elisala like he was their brother.
"He was a really good football player... he had so much potential, but on top of all of that, he was a really good friend," Mitchell said.
Morgan and Elisala were best mates since Year 10, the pair spent every weekend together, played footy together and then were signed with the Cowboys together.
"I was lucky to have spent as much time with him as I did," he said.
Despite having his own career ahead of him, Morgan said football just didn't seem important after Elisala, aged 20, died.
"There are good days and bad days," he said.
"Even now, there are still nights I can't get to sleep ...I will roll around for hours thinking about it," he said.
Questions of 'why' and 'how' have plagued the men since his death. Elisala had played a stellar game for the Cutters against Tweed Heads, scoring a try in the 22-22 match the night he died in Mackay. Mitchell, who was with him that night, said Elisala seemed normal. "He seemed like he always was," he said.
"You know, so you always question yourself as to whether you could have done anything."
It's been a tough year for both men, and they have leant on each other to get through the difficult time.
"It was difficult going back to the Cowboys, because they were close with him, but they weren't close enough that it would scar them," Mitchell said.
"I think that it was good that we have each other. We could relate to each other and relate to how horrific the experience was."
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THE tragic loss could have been enough to tear the Cutters season apart.
But somehow the team pulled together, gathered strength from one another, and was able to turn pain into motivation.
Cutters executive officer Glenn Ottaway is still coming to terms with Alex Elisala's death.
He has developed a close bond with Alex's mum, a person he describes as mentally the toughest, and strongest woman he has ever met.
Mr Ottaway said a Cowboys welfare manager addressed the Cutters team after Alex took his own life.
"He said 'how you use this, boys, is up to you. But the facts are, Alex always thought this team would win the comp'," Mr Ottaway said.
"Coaches and recruitment officers, you hear them say, 'he is not mentally tough.'...so mental toughness is a key attribute that coaches look for.
"So for a player, to show some sort of mental weakness... it's easier for them to bottle it up, because (they) don't want people to know this."
Mr Ottaway said the club was hoping to turn this belief system around.
"We are trying to sort of take the view that speaking up about something like this is mental toughness," he said.