SUPER League is to throw its weight behind a new film depicting the trials and tribulations of a big-name rugby league player whose personal life spirals out of control.
Writer-director Heath Davis, a passionate rugby league fan whose own playing career was halted by a broken leg at the age of 18, is keen to highlight a growing blight on the game after becoming concerned over gambling and alcohol addition in the NRL.
The result is his first feature film “Broke”, the story of a disgraced rugby league star and gambling addict who is shown the road to redemption by one of his biggest fans, which will have its UK premiere at the Manchester Film Festival this weekend.
“I had the film in mind for a decade,” Davis told Press Association Sport from Sydney. “It wasn’t always going to be my first movie.
“But, when my Hollywood project fell over, I returned to Australia and discovered the gambling and alcohol addiction issue in the game and sport and the country in general was more and more problematic.
“So I was prompted to make a film to raise awareness and hopefully create a dialogue on the issue and I think it’s worked. People seem to really identify with it - not just here but globally in fact.”
Davis describes it as “a timely and topical film” and it will hit the big screen as the fall-out continues into New South Wales and Sydney Roosters half-back Mitchell Pearce’s shameful antics on Australia Day which threatened to wreck his career.
“The problems have always been there, however I think the high pressures and win-at-all-costs, corporate nature of the sport has definitely enhanced pressure and anxiety on players as well as media scrutiny,” Davis added. “It’s a complex issue and one not going away soon.
“The film deals with the issue of gambling and alcohol addiction and the Super League are using it to build awareness of major issue that’s impacting not just the sport but also society as a whole.”
Seasoned Australian actor Steve Le Marquand, who plays washed-up former North Sydney forward Ben Kelly, played rugby league as a youngster and, well before the story was presented to him, had become fascinated by the story of former Melbourne and Canterbury Bulldogs prop Ryan Tandy, a gambling addict who was found guilty of match-fixing and in 2014 was found dead from an apparent drugs overdose.
Le Marquand says he carried out research into Tandy’s life before taking on the role and authenticity is also provided through producer Luke Graham, son of former North Sydney legend Mark Graham whose action shots are used to portray Kelly in the film.
British film buffs will draw comparisons with “This Sporting Life”, the 1963 production in which Richard Harris played a rugby league player torn apart by demons in his alcohol-fuelled personal life.
“There’s obvious parallels in the tone but Broke is more a timely and topical study of the modern rugby league player,” Davis said. “Hopefully Broke has that film’s longevity. It’s still much adored today.”
Davis, who was once a team-mate of former dual-code international Craig Gower and was an NRL reporter for many years, is grateful for the backing of both the NRL and Super League.
“The goal from the outset was to create something that didn’t sanitise and provided a realistic insight into the game and the serious social issues that lie beneath,” he said.
“Having the endorsement of the governing body just reinforces that authenticity but also helps spread the message to a wide audience. That said, it’s a movie first and foremost and something I think footy fans and movie fans in general will respond to.
“The film is an emotive, second chance story and has a lot of heart and is genuinely funny at times. I’ve seen it now in many non-league territories and it seems to really translate so hopefully it does the same in England.”
Broke, which was named best film at the Independent Film Awards in Los Angeles, will also show in Cardiff on April 22 ahead of its general release in Australia and New Zealand.