Higginbotham, Reds concerned for Slipper's welfare

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

As one of James Slipper's best mates, Scott Higginbotham's overwhelming emotion upon hearing the news of his positive cocaine tests was sadness.

Slipper's Reds teammates were only informed of the news five minutes prior to Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle's press conference, QRU chairman Jeff Miller addressing the group.

Higginbotham was aware of the mental health issues plaguing Slipper over the past 12 months but was shocked to hear of the positive tests and subsequent suspension, given how close the pair are off field.

"I'm sad, I'm sad for him," Higginbotham said.

"Being a mate, what he's been going through outside of football is not something you want to see.

"To add this on top, I just couldn't imagine how he's feeling and it's a tough thing to think about your mates in that sort of way.Higginbotham says he was not aware of Slipper's drug use. Photo: Getty Images"I think his close friends are aware as to what's going on outside of football.

"But in terms of what was brought to us yesterday, we weren't aware of that side of things."

Slipper's welfare is now the playing group's primary concern, according to the Reds skipper.

"Depression is a serious thing and when you've had close friends and family that have suffered depression, you can see what effect it will have on a person," Higginbotham said.

"It's a tough thing for him and the main thing for myself and I'm sure for the rest of the playing group is his welfare - his welfare is our main concern."

Welfare was the reason listed for Slipper's absence in the side that lost to the Hurricanes on Friday night and his absence at training last Wednesday was cause for immediate concern for Higginbotham.

Slipper has been suspended for two months. Photo: Getty Images"We were training on Wednesday last week and that's obviously when he wasn't there," he said.

"I called him straight away and had a chat to him.

"He talked about how he was feeling, obviously his close friends are aware of what happened outside of football and we were just showing our concern and making sure he was okay.

"That's what these mental illnesses are like.

"You think you're a close enough mate that he would explain everything to you and tell you everything but that's the circumstances and how things happen.

"He's a cagey sort of person that likes to keep things to himself and keep things on the inside."

While the Slipper news will no doubt provide some sort of distraction, Queensland still have a match to win against the Highlanders tomorrow night.

The visitors have rested a handful of their stars as the June Test window approaches but the Reds welcome back Izaia Perese, a player Higginbotham spoke highly of on Friday.

"He was obviously very disappointed with the injury at the start of the year and then probably getting the opportunity before missing out on the team - he takes it personally, which is great," he said.

"He's worked really hard to get back and I'm sure he's looking to prove himself even more so at this level and look for that green and gold jersey later in the year."

The Reds face the Highlanders at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS and RUGBY.com.au radio.