Superstar Brisbane Broncos and Kangaroos winger Wendell Sailor shocked everyone when he switched codes to play union in 2001. The King of the Wing, whose thunderous runs intimidated anyone in his path, surprised even himself when he was selected for the Wallabies, becoming the first Australian player raised in league to represent his country in both codes.
But in 2006, it all fell apart.
During a routine drug test for the Waratahs, he tested positive for cocaine and was banned from the game for two years. And those years away would prove to the toughest challenge of his life. The self-confessed party boy who constantly sought the public spotlight was now forced to do some soul-searching, and most of it wasn’t pretty.
But Sailor fought back hard and worked through the shame, throwing himself into charity work and mentoring young people in alcohol and drug awareness programs. With the help of his family and old coach and mentor, Wayne Bennett, he began his path to redemption.
When the ban was up, Sailor made a triumphant return to the code that had first discovered him at age 18, and the St George Illawarra Dragons had a new winger – and a player determined to prove what he was capable of until his final game in 2010. But Crossing the Line isn’t just Sailor’s story as the comeback king. Written with Jimmy Thomson, Wendell reveals a dark secret that has haunted him since childhood. He tells us what it’s like to be a black man in a white man’s world and the toll racism takes on elite sport. He shows us how good friends and mentors are so important to our national heroes. And he also demonstrates how crucial the bonds of family – and the love and trust of good people – are for anyone, hero or not.
Wendell Sailor exploded into the NRL competition at age 18 for the Brisbane Broncos under coach Wayne Bennett and went on to carve out a fearsome reputation as their star winger. Also selected for the national Kangaroos side, he would play league until 2001 when his shock defection to union rocked the football world. Sailor hit new heights when he was selected to play for the Wallabies, becoming the first league-raised player to become a dual international. In 2006 he tested positive for cocaine while playing for the Waratahs, and he was banned from the game for two years. In 2008 Sailor announced his return to the NRL, to play winger for the St George Illawarra Dragons, eventually coached by his old mentor Wayne Bennett until his retirement at the end of the 2009 season. His final game was in 2010 for the Indigenous All Stars.
Jimmy Thomson is an author, journalist and scriptwriter. His other books include Watto, the biography of cricketer Shane Watson, Tunnel Rats, about the exploits of army engineers in the Vietnam War, and Snitch, true crime in Sydney’s King’s Cross. He writes weekly for the Sydney Morning Herald and has also created and written three successful TV drama series, Rain Shadow, Crash Palace and Breakers.
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