‘Football saved me’: Rodda opens up on father’s suicide

LOOKING back, Izack Rodda can see that his dad Jon needed help.

He would shut himself away from people, and be reluctant to talk - or go out.

The Queensland Reds player would ask his father if he was doing OK, and he'd receive back a gruff response - 'I don't need any help'.

Izack, 23, didn't push the issue, thinking dad - a fisherman from Evans Head in northern New South Wales - had his mental health under control.

That was until February this year, when Izack received the most difficult phone call of his life, telling him that his dad had taken his own life at 46.

"He was such a strong person and really hid his emotions really well," Rodda says.

"There was a couple of signs but I didn't think much of it because he seemed normal and when you asked about it, he'd go 'I don't need any help' or 'men don't need help.'

"He used to change the subject (when asked about his mental health). He wasn't comfortable with it or thought it wasn't a big deal or didn't want to bother us.''

In hindsight, Izack says he know thinks his dad had suffered from mental health problems for years.


Izack Rodda with his late dad, Jon.
Izack Rodda with his late dad, Jon.

Growing up, the pair were close. Jon took his son on his first fishing trip - something that would become a ritual when Izack visited the family's Evans Head home, even as an adult.

"My dad was a fisherman and we basically lived on the water. We'd go fish and be on the water together growing up," Izack says.

"My favourite memory of dad would've been when we went out fishing when I was a kid and I caught my first fish. Just the joy in his eyes is something I'll remember for the rest of my life."

"Whenever he was out on the ocean he just seemed so much happier, it was just his happy place and what he loved to do and having me there made it all the better.''

It's these memories of early mornings spent on the boat with his dad that help Izack feel connected to his father.

"Whenever I go home and see his old fishing rods or surf boards it kind of triggers memories," Izack says.

"Or when I go out on the ocean it brings back memories, because I only ever used to go out with him.

"We were pretty close. Every time I'd go home I'd see him. We used to talk quite a bit on the phone but I don't get those phone calls anymore.''

The Wallabies lock turned to those who know him best when dealing with the heartbreaking loss of his father.

He says football, his friends and of course, his family stopped Izack from entering a dark place.

"Football kind of saved me," Izack said.


New Reds Captain Izack Rodda. Photo: Brendan Hertel, QRU
New Reds Captain Izack Rodda. Photo: Brendan Hertel, QRU

"It gave me stability in my life again. I just went back to training, back to work and got to spend my time with best mates.

"It makes it easier when you enjoy what you're doing and you're with your best mates doing something you love. If anything, it helped me get better.''

Izack says the support of teammates, who travelled to NSW to attend his dad's funeral, and the support of partner Kobe Howard helped him through.

"Kobe has always been there by my side and she got me through a fair bit," Izack says.

"She's seen a lot of what I've gone through and has been there for it all."

"All my mates at the Reds, all the players came down for dad's funeral, which was really big for me. It showed me that footy is bigger than just football, they're family.''

After the loss of his father, Izack has signed up to be an official ambassador for Australian suicide prevention charity R U OK?

The determined rugby player wants to talk openly about mental health, and is using the platform of his sporting career to do so.

"The more people say it's okay to feel like that and it's okay to be sad is a really good thing," he says.


Wallabies and St. George Queensland Reds player Izack Rodda and his partner Kobe Howard. (Photo AAP/Megan Slade).
Wallabies and St. George Queensland Reds player Izack Rodda and his partner Kobe Howard. (Photo AAP/Megan Slade).

"It's important to remind people they're not alone and it's okay to talk about this. It's something that doesn't go away and it's hard to escape by yourself."

Izack wants all Australians to recognise the warning signs and ask someone who they think is struggling - R U OK?

"Change in behaviour is a big one. If they're a happy go lucky person and then they start to seem a bit down, that's a warning sign,'' he says.

"If they don't like going out and doing things anymore and sort of want to stay by themselves and shut off from people, that's a sign something probably isn't right. If they shy away from their feelings, that's something else to keep a lookout for.''

"If anyone is struggling, there's always someone there to help you."

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