Family connection driving Thorn's hardline drugs stance

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips

Brad Thorn has seen the effect illicit drugs can have on a family.

His brother-in-law battled with substance abuse years ago and while he emerged from that period of his life unscathed, it provided Thorn with a glimpse into the way drug use can ruin lives.

It was a part of Thorn's life which will forever shape his stance on illicit drugs, both as a father and now, as a coach.

Whether cocaine is considered a "party drug" or not - or is now more commonplace than in the past - is of no relevance to the hard-edged Reds boss.

In a wide-ranging interview with at the end of his first season as a Super Rugby coach, Thorn shared some insights into the James Slipper and Karmichael Hunt situations which have rocked the club in recent times. 

"When you're talking about cocaine to me, it's a serious issue," he said.Thorn has given the keys to the Queensland kingdom to youth. Photo: Getty Images"I know that probably these days people are saying it's more prevalent but once again, it's the Queensland Reds - this is part of the Queensland Rugby Union.

"I don't want (cocaine) to be around this team, this club or the kids around this club.

"I'm a dad - I've got four kids and on my wife's side one of her siblings had some issues with drugs and it's a tough thing.

"I know they call them party drugs and stuff now but you can call them whatever you want - they cause issues in people's lives.

"I don't really want to talk about it too much because I want to respect my wife and her family - my family - I guess.

"But the good news is, he got through that.

"It's not great for society, it's talked about in the newspapers and it's a challenge for society."

Taking a hard line stance on that challenge, as Thorn put it, is not about making an example of Hunt and Slipper.Izack Rodda the next potential captain of the club. Photo: Getty ImagesIt is setting an example for the players he has nurtured from Queensland U20s right through to the Reds.

He has placed all his eggs in the basket of Taniela Tupou, Izack Rodda, Lukhan Tui, Caleb Timu, Liam Wright, Tate McDermott, Hamish Stewart and Jordan Petaia.

They are all under the age of 24 and will all start for the Reds against the Sunwolves on Friday night.

Thorn doesn't want them straying into the zones that have left Slipper and Hunt without Super Rugby homes in 2019.

"There are a lot of young guys coming through and it’s important to me that they have good mentoring from myself or that the club culture is strong," he said.

"As much as I want them to go on to be great players and have great careers, I also want them to be great people and humble.

"So kids have good role models when they see a Reds player - he plays good footy and someone that the way he goes about his stuff shows good qualities.

"We’ve all got our battles and I’m not saying everyone has to be perfect or anything but as a dad with four kids of my own, there is the footy side of things and then there is the people side of things.

"I’m hoping that there is a long term - that we are working towards building a foundation for a long term healthy club and rugby in Queensland and hopefully some success - that's my mindset."

Slipper and Hunt aside, Thorn has never really delved into the reasoning behind the decision to banish Quade Cooper - apart from expressing a desire to move in a different direction.

The 30-year-old flyhalf will always have a cult following of fans which believe he is capable of recapturing the form which set the rugby world alight.

Others see Thorn's point about the need for change in the Reds' fortunes, which had been disappointing for many years prior to his elevation to head coach.

Debate rages on but Thorn stresses there was never anything nothing personal in his decision making, despite it being pointed out that he and Cooper had some run-ins as players.

"Throughout the year I have seen highlights back to Richie McCaw and I gave Quade a push and a shove," Thorn said.

"How many push and shoves do you think I've had in 20 years?

There's nothing personal between Brad Thorn and Quade Cooper. Photo: Getty Images"One of the best punches I ever threw was on Schalke Burger in a maul when he was only 19 or something.

"I had forgotten about that 10 minutes later - he's a great guy - how many punches have you thrown in your career?

"I know people want to have the juice, they want to have the spice, I've just been cruising along.

"People have been working hard to say it's this one or this one - but it's forgotten - I couldn't tell you how many people I... unfortunately... have thrown a punch at or something or someone has punched me.

"That's footy - I'm sorry - you just get on with it.

"If you have had a beef with everyone you had a push and shove with - you would have a lot of beef - but that's what the easy story is to write.

"I said at the time - there needs to be change, sometimes, in places.

"It's pretty visible to everyone - I'm bringing through young guys - how many do I have to bring through?

"Next year, the year after, you will see some pay for that."There are signs of life in the young Reds core. Photo: Getty ImagesReds fans have been waiting five years for some pay.

They have wallowed through the disastrous Richard Graham era, the questionably-short Nick Stiles tenure and now, another building season in 2018 with Thorn at the helm.

A win against the Sunwolves would bring their season total to six wins - their best haul since the last time they played finals football, in 2013.

That would mark the start of "something", which Thorn set out searching for at the beginning of the year.

Unsurprisingly, he knows what he is aiming for.

"My passion and my mindset is around the 70s, 80s and 90s where they had long term success here and a really healthy club," Thorn said.

"We were known as one of the best club teams in the world.

"What I’m doing is trying to build something.

"I think I said to you earlier in the year either I take it through or I leave it for the next guy."Thorn wants to build a long term powerhouse at Ballymore. Photo: Getty ImagesQRU chairman Jeff Miller last week declared Thorn a potential 10-year coach of the club.

Whether the rookie coach feels comfortable with that is another matter entirely, as family always comes first.

"I felt like this is something that I had to do - something had to be done and I’m doing that," Thorn said.

"I’ve got four children that are a pretty important age.

"My eldest son is 14, I’ve got a 13-year-old, a boy that’s about to turn 12 and my daughter.

"So I’m aware there is a short bracket of time - when they get to 18, 19 they won’t be around as much.

"I’m aware of that as well so next year, I will see where I’m at.

"This break time will be good for me and things will play out naturally.

"If it’s meant to be that I’m still doing stuff that will be great to serve this club.

"I’ve never had this thing where I was going to coach after footy or to be a (long term) head coach.

"The way I see things - I’m in God’s hands and things will play out as they do."

The Reds face the Sunwolves in their final Super Rugby match of the year on Friday, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS and radio.