Growing up, I used to look at my dad and think he could do anything. He played football, too, but was a builder by trade and a real DIY expert. Whenever I was around him I always felt safe.
Dad had a tough upbringing in the north of England – growing up he never had much and had to fight for everything he got. But that made him the man he was. He taught me that with enough hard graft I could achieve anything. He instilled that self-belief and confidence in me and my brothers. Whenever we walked onto the pitch, he wanted us to have that mindset that if we worked hard, nothing could stop us.
How is my style of parenting different to my dad’s? Honestly, I’d like to think it’s mostly similar. One of dad’s big things was the importance of family. He died of motor neurone disease when he was just 45. But he always wanted us to stick together and look after each other. Dad was also big on respect. We grew up under strict guidelines and were never allowed to swear. I know that times have changed and I’m now raising my daughter in a different world full of iPads and smartphones. But I’d still like to bring her up with similar principles. The way I see it is that if I can teach my daughter good values and respect, then she’ll be able to make smart decisions by herself.
Being the eldest of four boys, my mum says that I was the bossy older brother, always telling them what to do. For a while back then I was the biggest until they all kept growing and overtook me. As the eldest I did try to look after Sam and the twins to keep them in order. But I learned a lot from them, too.
Lining up together for a Rabbitohs game in 2013 we became the first set of four brothers to play for the same side for more than 100 years. I’m still immensely proud of that day. I don’t think anyone will ever do it again.
What’s my advice as a former sportsman to touchline parents? I’m a big opposer to those dads who are always shouting on the sidelines and getting too involved. As a parent, you should just be encouraging your kids to enjoy their sport and allowing them to flourish. Their coaches are there for a reason.
I was a bloke who’d grown up in a family full of guys. I’d spent most of my life around men playing sport. So when I found out I was going to have a little girl I didn’t feel confident at all. I thought to myself, “What am I going to do?”
But there’s something so beautiful about a relationship between a dad and his daughter. Grace is seven now. Every night she tells me that she loves me and gives me a kiss. Having a little girl has also taught me a lot about the world from a female perspective. If I do have more children then I’d happily have more girls.
Although I’ve split up from Grace’s mum, Yolanda, we still have a great relationship and I’ve got huge respect for her. Obviously, you don’t plan to be a single parent but it’s actually turned into a good experience. When I went to play in France, Yolanda let me take Grace with me for three or four months. Spending all that one-on-one time together with my daughter was so special for me. I’d never have got to have that experience if I wasn’t a single dad.