May 18, 2020 / 2:59 AM / 14 days ago

Rugby league-Sport shutdown sent 'Jimmy the Jet' into rehab - partner

SYDNEY, May 18 (Reuters) - New South Wales and South Sydney Rabbitohs back James Roberts checked into rehab because the coronavirus shutdown of sport left such a big hole in his life, his partner told Australian media on Monday.

Health experts have warned that a prolonged isolation during the COVID-19 crisis could take a major mental toll on athletes as their livelihoods and self-esteem are intrinsically linked to competition.

Pacy centre Roberts, nicknamed ‘Jimmy the Jet’, checked into the clinic last week and Anna Jovanovic said mental health issues, not alcohol or drugs, were behind the voluntarily move.

“The reason he decided to go to rehab was because of the absence rugby league left in his life when we had to go into isolation. You could just see he was lost,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“He would just sit around, be in deep thought and you could see he didn’t want to do anything. He lost some of his drive.

“The whole not getting up for training, the social environment of being with the boys, the happiness that training gives and doing what always does – that was a big part that was missing. He just kept saying, ‘I just want to play football’.”

The 27-year-old flyer, who played all three matches in the 2018 State of Origin series, has had alcohol-related issues in the past that cost him contracts at two National Rugby League (NRL) clubs.

“I think people get the wrong idea and automatically think, ‘Oh, he’s got a drug problem or he’s got a drinking problem’,” Jovanovic added.

“It was none of that. It’s about mental health, and there’s no shame in that. People should be proud of him for making this step for himself and his family, and not misconstrue it with other things.”

Roberts planned to check himself out of the clinic on Friday and hopes to play in South Sydney’s derby against the reigning champion Sydney Roosters when the NRL resumes next week, Jovanovic said.

“If he plays the first game, that would be huge for him,” she told the newspaper.

“I hope he does. Because that’s what he is really looking forward to. Knowing James, he might say, ‘I need to play, this is what I live and I die for’.” (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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