THEN AND NOW: Denhem Blackburn has been sentenced to nine years in jail for his role in a drug ring.
THEN AND NOW: Denhem Blackburn has been sentenced to nine years in jail for his role in a drug ring. John McCutcheon/Annie Perets

NRL hopeful lived in luxury while working as a drug runner

A DISGRACED rugby league player who joined a drug ring after a chance meeting with an alleged kingpin has been sentenced to nine years in jail for his involvement in a major ice syndicate.  

Former semi-professional athlete Denhem Ronald Blackburn lived a lavish lifestyle of driving sports cars and renting a $1010 a week Noosa apartment while working as a drug runner and debt collector between 2014-2016.   

Now, the 27-year-old calls a jail cell home.   

Blackburn pleaded guilty in Maryborough Supreme Court this week to his role in the drug ring, which included a charge of drug trafficking.   

The operation's accused kingpin Scott William Berns - who Blackburn met at a concreting job - is yet to be sentenced.  

The court heard Blackburn was paid $2000 a week by Mr Berns to deliver 500g of ice from the Gold Coast to the Sunshine Coast, with the drug then divided among dealers for street sale.  

Blackburn made extra cash through his own side business, selling illicit drugs including MDMA and steroids to repeat customers.   

To avoid detection, the many cars owned by Blackburn were purchased under different names.   

He gave Mr Berns one of these cars to repay his own drug debt.  

Blackburn was arrested in May 2016 after a major police operation busted the drug network.   

Police found 762 calls and text messages between Blackburn and Mr Berns over a period of a couple of months discussing the drug business.   

In a phone call Blackburn made from jail, he boasted having $420,000 in cash pass through his hands during the two years.   

It marked a fall from grace for the former footy talent who once showed so much promise in the rugby league world.

He spent time in the National Rugby League system and Intrust Super Cup.   

Blackburn was rejected from both the Titans and the Eels prior to his downfall.  

The drug trafficking occurred from July 1, 2014 - May 28, 2016.   

With a strong work history on his resume, high school education completed, and a supportive family, Justice Peter Applegarth said Blackburn did not embody the typical drug criminal.  

"Someone who commits the offences you did, deserves punishment," Justice Applegarth told him.  

"Every day this court sees the misery of drug use. We see street level traffickers, street level users, who are taking the food out of their children's mouths to support their addiction."   

Blackburn will be eligible for parole in August next year.