League legend Eric Grothe reveals depression, drug use, fake injuries

Eric Grothe, a four-time premiership winner and member of the NRL Hall of Fame, was one of the most dominant and successful wing players in rugby league history.

The powerful runner was a key cog in Parramatta’s golden era in the 1980s, while also playing for NSW and Australia.

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That’s why the comments the man known as “The Guru” made on Sunday left jaws on the floor and are a stark contrast to the aura he once enjoyed in the game.

Grothe, 64, played 152 games for the Eels between 1979 and 1989 but says he should have played a lot more.

Instead, one of the league’s strongest men was faking injuries to skip games, and the shocking revelation that he was playing on left him cowering and feeling inferior to all of his opponents.

“It was like there were two faces,” said Grothe on Andy Raymond Unfiltered podcast.

“One was in the public domain and the other was in the private domain.

“Ego was in turmoil. In public, I was considered a pretty mild-mannered guy, but I had a big ego.

“I played football in a scared way. I felt like I was small. It is difficult to determine exactly when this happened.”

Grothe then recalled a time when he was 15 or 16 years old at a public swimming pool and a bigger kid tried to hit him, which changed his perception of society.

“I thought why would someone want to do that,” he asked.

“Then I let go of that fear on my own because I thought I was going to have that pressure.

“That carried over into football. After 1984, when I was a bit older and struggling a bit, it all came back to me, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

“I just had no self-esteem, I started faking injuries. I didn’t want to play. He could have played a lot more matches.

“The knees were a problem, but the last time I did the knee I was kind of happy about that because I didn’t have to deal with that thing in my head that I had to come out and try to show it. I was tough.

“Everyone looked bigger than me and I didn’t even have the confidence to be better at what I was doing.

“I gave up a lot of games on Sunday morning.

“I called the (Eels’) doctor (Peter) Manollaras and said ‘Pete, I can’t play, my knee hurts or my ankle hurts’. Then I’d be happy. That would make me happy.”

Grothe’s lack of confidence snowballed and he found ways to skip games if he ended up playing poorly against a certain team.

He says he suffered from depression long before it became a public issue that men discussed openly, and began taking drugs to keep his worries at bay.

“I had some drugs when I was playing, I took them every now and then during the football season, a little more in the off-season.” he said. “Just your standard marijuana.

“But I never really ran away from myself. That was always there.

“You’re trying to get away from yourself. You’re looking for excuses. I guess that’s not what I’m dealing with with smoking.’

Grothe has done his best to hide his situation from teammates, friends and family, but said he was aware of rumors that he was “soft or injury prone”.

He retired from football after the 1989 season, but his problems did not improve.

“I broke up my family playing,” he said. “In 1990, 1991, my wife and I separated, the mother of the children.

“I was retired at the time. I just did the wrong thing, chasing girls and all that.

“I was thinking mostly of myself.”

Even in his later years, Grothe struggled with demons.

He met a new partner about five years ago, coinciding with the man named in the official list of Australia’s 100 Greatest Players of All Time in 2008 turning to harder drugs.

“I used cocaine quite a bit there for a while,” he said.

“I’ve come to some dark places. There was a period when it was an introverted thing.

“The cocaine I would have by myself, in my room, made me do some stupid things.

“She was part of that time.

“It wasn’t until the last four years that I got rid of it, woke up to myself and finally grew up a little.”

Grothe has finally found faith and says he’s in a much happier place these days with a new partner he calls “an angel,” though he says he still needs to work on himself.

He previously did some volunteer work with Meals on Wheels and also enjoys playing in their band, Eric Grothe and the Gurus.

Grothe has also turned to his children for support, including fellow former Eels and Blues representative Eric Grothe Jr.

“Eric junior was a wonderful rock for me, I told him everything,” he said.

“He didn’t judge. He also did some things in his time.

“He was good and so was my younger son Daniel. They were both fantastic.”

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