Parramatta Eels’ co-captain Kieran Foran’s leave of absence could have a positive influence on aspiring rugby league players, and show, despite the ‘tough-guy’ NRL image, it is okay to seek help for mental illness, according to a local league official.

Foran requested time off to deal with personal issues last week. He was admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital after allegedly accidentally overdosing on prescription drugs, it has been reported.

Illawarra Rugby League manager Chris Bannerman said the incident, and those like it, could help younger players open-up emotionally, and that the days of a player being bullied for being vulnerable were gone.

“As hard as it is for these people, the fact that these things happen and that the NRL, players and teammates rally around and show their support in these situations is helpful,” Bannerman said.

“If they feel to admit weakness they wont be ostracised in any way, or scorned by peers or society, that’s only a good thing.”

In 2015, eight young rugby players took their own lives. It’s not clear what impact it has had on associations across the country, but there is support available to players in need.

The NRL runs programs that target mental health, including  ‘NRL State of Mind‘ and ‘Better Choices‘.

“Generally there’s a feeling that that sort of stigma has been broken down a little bit by players at the top level coming out openly and making statements about the issues they face,” Bannerman said.

“The game has seen proactive change.”

Bannerman said he had worked with players who had struggled with long-term injuries and time-off the field. He said training programs for the players helped identify risk and assisted others to find expert help before severe mental health problems developed. However, he said some responsibility was in the player’s hands.

“People have got to want to help themselves,” Bannerman said.

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