Incredible untold story of Corey Harawira-Naera’s impossible journey to the NRL

Corey Harawira-Naera had touched Hell only to return to something worse when he decided to end his life as a 13-year-old. Now, for the first time, the Bulldogs star opens up about the moments that led to that night and his incredible journey to the NRL.

Corey Harawira-Naera has a leather belt in his hand and little idea of what to do next.

But still, he wants out.

Desperate to be free of the bullying, homesickness and most certainly the sudden, overwhelming hopelessness.

And so fighting back tears inside a small, boarding school bedroom, the scrawny schoolboy begins a series of events that will eventually be remembered only as a blur.

Like exactly who raced into that room and saved him?

“Couldn’t say,” Harawira-Naera shrugs.

Just as 11 years on, this newest Canterbury Bulldogs star — and likely, future New Zealand Test backrower — has never spoken in detail about the night with anyone.

Not even mum.

But forget?

No, that day Harawira-Naera tried to take his own life, it now exists as something of a heartbeat.

The incident this Bulldogs backrower, still only 24, recalls at times like when his new club lost all but three of its opening 14 games, slumping to last on the NRL ladder.

Same deal in March, when unwittingly dragged into an NRL sex tape scandal. Then again in June, when dropped by coach Dean Pay for perceived defensive errors.

Not that anyone, including his teammates, know.

Yet in a chaotic year where this Waimamaku product has left Penrith, represented Maori All Stars, got dropped, reinstated, even been dragged, wrongly, into that video scandal at his old club, the night inside his dorm endures.

“Knowing,” Harawira-Naera says, “that nothing in my life will ever be that tough again”.

Which matters.

Panthers Corey Harawira-Naera during the 2015 Holden Cup grand final. Picture: Gregg Porteous
Panthers Corey Harawira-Naera during the 2015 Holden Cup grand final.

Especially when you consider this workaholic Canterbury recruit, signed until the end 2022, is effectively the bedrock on which the Belmore club is now planning its rebuild.

A revival, coincidentally, for which Harawira-Naera is suited perfectly.

And for proof, go back to that evening when he was just 13.

Back then, the son of a single mum who — having grown up sharing bedrooms in a family home without power, hot water, sometimes both — was this particular night returning to his dorm room following another dinner at the school’s mess hall.

“And I was really down,” Harawira-Naera recalls. “I was homesick, getting bullied, it was tough.

Corey Harawira-Naera with his family. Source: Instagram
Corey Harawira-Naera with his family.

“Then after dinner, headed back to the dorms, one of the boys snuck up behind me and, as a joke, stabbed me in the back with a plastic knife …”

And from there?

“Crazy,” he says. “I just thought ‘nah, I don’t want to be here anymore’.

“So I ran to my room, and tried to end my life.

“It’s something not many people know.

“At the time I wasn’t even really sure how I was going to do it, but my mind was made up.”

At which time, thankfully, another boarder was passing his open door.

“Although I can’t even remember who it was,” Harawira-Naera concedes.

Just as more than a decade on, this gifted footballer with 59 NRL games still struggles to comprehend his snap.

“Although I was a scrawny kid back then, tiny, and had a couple of boys bullying me,” he recalls. “So that wasn’t fun.

“I was really homesick too.

“And while I’d been telling Mum for a while I didn’t want to stay there, I probably wasn’t telling her as much as I meant.

“So then, with that boy sneaking up on me … it was the final straw.”

More than that, too.

In fact, Harawira-Naera’s darkest episode has, ever since, acted as fuel for a footballer who was unwanted by the Warriors, lived above horse stables after arriving in Australia, and even found himself dropped, more than once, with Panthers under-20s.

For almost a year, Harawira-Naera trained while working as a fencer. So light too, he would wake around three o’clock every morning to consume protein shakes.

All up, so completely tattooed by tenacity his Panthers farewell brought then general manager Phil Gould to tears.

And even then, without Gus knowing the full story.

“As soon as Mum heard what happened, she wanted me home,” Harawira-Naera continues of his suicide attempt.

“I can still see her face too, when I jumped off the bus and she ran over to me crying.

“And looking back now, I can see how selfish it was. Knowing how I would’ve changed mum’s life forever — and everybody else I loved — by making that decision.

“So now when things get tough, it’s something I draw on.

“While Mum and I have never really spoken about it since — and there’s nothing needs saying — I know things will never be that hard again.

Corey Harawira-Naera living and working at Fernhill at Mulgola during his time at the Panthers.
Corey Harawira-Naera living and working at Fernhill at Mulgola during his time at the Panthers.

“So when I’m down in the dumps, I go back and draw on those tough times.

“Make sure I surround myself with good people, too.

“Because it’s crazy sometimes how much losing a footy game can control how you feel.

“So I’ve learned to be grateful for everything I have.”

Importantly, Harawira-Naera owns other motivators too.

Like the large, brick home which, right now existing only in his mind, he plans to buy for mum Trina.

A selfless foster care worker who, still living across the ditch, has devoted her life to caring for up to 10 children at once.

Growing up, Harawira-Naera remembers the hot water being cut so often he grew accustomed to cold showers.

Just as on weekends, he would sneak into the neighbouring school’s toilet block to power hair clippers, mobile phones, everything.

Which goes some way to explaining how, against Brisbane in Thursday Night Football, this Belmore backrower looks set to continue the unlikeliest of Bulldogs’ resurgences.

Corey Harawira-Naera. Picture: Getty
Corey Harawira-Naera.

Over the past fortnight, not only starring in consecutive upsets against both Cronulla and Newcastle, but proving himself the type of player on whom this battling club can rebuild.

And, again, fuelled by that dream home.

One which existing on the outskirts of Penrith, or maybe Gregory Hills, boasts an in-ground pool, grassed backyard, even a playroom for Harawira-Naera’s little brother Manaaki, 3, and son Elijah, almost two.

“Although Mum’s always saying that I don’t have to get her a house,” he shrugs. “She’s the type of person who has never wanted handouts ever, from anyone.

“But the house, it’s something I’m committed to. Something I’m saving for.

“And she knows that’s my motivation.

“Always has been.

“Even when I first moved over here, I wasn’t doing it for myself. I was doing it for my mum, my family.

“And every time things get hard, I draw on that.”

Which is why, for the first time, Harawira-Naera is also opening up on his past.

All of it.

“Because, hopefully, I can bring some awareness to the issue,” he says. “Prove to even one young person doing it tough that, yeah, you can come through the other side.

“Show them that there are better days ahead. That blessings are coming for you.

“So work hard, hang in … and never, ever give up.”

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