It was a Thursday evening in Rotorua on All Stars duty when Nicho Hynes first learned that his mother, Julie, had been found guilty of a heroin supply charge.
Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon was the first to reach out to Hynes, who, after a brief conversation with his brother, Wade, turned off his phone and considered packing his bags and leaving Indigenous All Stars camp.
Just a week earlier, Hynes had been prepared to pull out of the All Stars match to support his mother.
“I was leaning towards staying and being by her side, and I even told her, ‘This could be the last time I see you for a while’,” Hynes told the Herald on Monday.
“But she said, ‘I want you to play’. We knew the court case was coming, but she said she never wanted it to impact my footy. We had prepared for her court case and always knew it would fall around All Stars week.
“But mum said, ‘Go over, make us proud and make our culture proud’.
Nicho Hynes has revealed how close he came to leaving All Stars camp when his mother was found guilty of knowingly allowing her house to be used as a drug premises.Credit:Getty Images
“I was rattled when I got the news. Fitzy said to me, ‘If you’re not there mentally and not ready to go out and dominate the game, I’ll pull you out because I don’t want anything to happen to you’.
“I respected that. I was almost ruling myself out. But I also knew how much the game meant to my teammates and even myself.
Hynes went on to claim man-of-the-match honours in the All Stars as the Indigenous side defeated the Maori All Stars.
The 26-year-old said he had spoken to his mother, and planned to visit her behind bars in the next week or two.
Nicho Hynes bursts into a gap in Rotorua during the All Stars earlier this month.Credit:NRL Photos
Hynes has spoken about his mental health struggles in the past, but the past week or so had been “one of the most challenging times in my life”.
“It’s probably been the most challenging time of my life,” Hynes said. “I have to take it day by day and see what happens. I’m only human.
“I speak to my mindset coach [Jarred Brown], he’s only a phone call away. I had a really good Zoom session with him on Sunday. I’ve got the right support around me.
“We’ll put things in place for me when the [sentencing] happens in May. Right now, all I can do is worry about getting prepared for this season.”
Hynes is no certainty to line up on Saturday night against South Sydney because of a calf complaint he suffered last Wednesday.
“I’m a chance, I need to tick a few boxes this week, and ‘Fitzy’ will decide what’s best for me,” Hynes said. “I was off my feet today to give it an extra day, but we’ll see how we go tomorrow.”
Hynes has received nothing but respect from his teammates, with some blown away by how he had been able to separate his mother’s jailing and his on-field performance.
Fitzgibbon has introduced four key principles he wants his players to adopt, with one of them being ‘walking tall’.
Cronulla prop Toby Rudolf, one of Hynes’ good friends, said the pin-up epitomised “walking tall”.
“Whether you’re here, at training, not at training, ‘walking tall’ is about representing the Sharks wherever you go – you need to present a good version of yourself, and he [Nicho] does that,” Rudolf said. “To go from the highest of highs to such a massive low, I felt for him.”
Souths await the Sharks at PointsBet Stadium, with Hynes labelling his Indigenous All Stars teammate Latrell Mitchell a constant threat.
“When ‘Trell’ wants to play, he’s the best player in the game,” Hynes said.
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