Mario Fenech news leaves NRL world devastated: 'Saddest story'

·Sports Editor
·5-min read
Mario Fenech, pictured here during commentary duties for 2GB radio in 2014.
Mario Fenech looks on during commentary duties for 2GB radio in 2014. (Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

Leading NRL journalist Phil Rothfield has called on players and the media to do more to minimise concussions in the game after shocking revelations from Mario Fenech on Sunday night.

The South Sydney Rabbitohs great revealed his battle with chronic traumatic encephalopathy - a type of dementia caused by repeated head knocks - on Channel 7's Spotlight program.

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A gutsy State of Origin representative, Fenech's name became synonymous with the Rabbitohs across a professional career that spanned 15 seasons in the 1980s and '90s.

He then made regular appearances on the NRL Footy Show and became a TV icon in his own right.

But Fenech was diagnosed with CTE at age 53, which has had increasingly devastating effects on his life in the seven years since, leaving him with little memory.

"When I was playing football, I got smashed around the head all the time and it had a real bad effect on me," Fenech said on Sunday night.

Mario Fenech, pictured here speaking to Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou during a training session.
Mario Fenech speaks to Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou during a training session. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

"You feel like you're going pop and it affects your brain. There are times I get really bad, just anxiety stuff."

Fenech's neurologist Dr Rowena Mobbs explained the rugby league great's brain was akin to that of an 80-year-old patient as a result of CTE, saying it won't be long before he needs full-time care.

"Gradually the neurons wither away in the brain. There's a loss of brain tissue," she said.

"It won't be long before he needs care."

Fenech's son Joe revealed how his father gave a speech at his wedding, only to forget that he had done so a day later.

"My parents woke up in the morning, the day after the wedding, my dad turned to my mum and said, 'I'm really excited for the wedding, when is it?'," he said.

Fenech's wife Rebecca said the effects of Mario's condition were felt daily.

"Every day he wakes up now and says, 'I'm confused. I don't know why. I don't feel great'," she said.

"He can't really do or think for himself."

NRL world left devastated over Mario Fenech news

Speaking on the Big Sports Breakfast on Sky Sports radio on Monday, Rothfield said he “shed a tear” while watching “one of the saddest” stories he’s ever seen on TV.

“Mario is a very good friend of mine throughout his career and to see him struggling in the manner of which he is, it’s really sad,” Rothfield said.

“I’m glad the story was covered so well, I’m glad its raised awareness.

“There are other footballers struggling in Mario’s position, Royce Simmons is not at that stage yet but Steve Mortimer the great Turvey Mortimer, George Piggins.

“I think that story last night was one of the saddest I’ve seen on TV. I think it’s a message not just to all of us in the media but the players and everywhere to really get behind the NRL’s attempts on the crackdowns and high tackles.

Mario Fenech, pictured here with Yvonne Christiansen and Wally Lewis at the Dally M awards in 2008.
Mario Fenech with Yvonne Christiansen and Wally Lewis at the Dally M awards in 2008. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

“Even for players like Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Felise Kaufusi, Victor Radley, Nelson Asofa-Solomona that maybe its time they did think about - they’re all great players, they’re all tough men - but to think a little bit more about how they play the game.

“I don’t think we can support the NRL enough on this."

The Fenech family's revelations come towards the end of the first full NRL season in which an independent doctor has been in charge of identifying signs of concussion from the bunker.

But Fenech said he had no regrets playing rugby league in a time when concussion management was far less stringent.

"Rugby league in this generation is a lot more safer than when I played," he said.

"But in saying that, I wouldn't change a thing.

"I really enjoyed my 15 year challenge of playing rugby league and enjoyed my time at Souths and it was brutal in those days but that's the way it was."

with AAP

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