HUDDERSFIELD Giants star Darrell Griffin talked today of the moment he saw one of his closest friends in the sport collapse with a fatal heart attack.
And he has admitted he will start the new Super League season with a different perspective on life.
The 27-year-old England international prop forward revealed details of the tragedy of being at the side of Adam Watene, one of his closest rugby league friends, as he collapsed from a massive heart attack in autumn last year.
On October 13, 2008, Griffin and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats prop Watene were training together at the Total Fitness gym in the centre of Wakefield.
As well as discussing their hopes for the next Super League season, the 31-year-old Watene was speaking fondly of the family holiday in Florida from which he had just returned with his wife Moana and children Arana and Ena.
But within an hour of the pair embarking on their training programme, the highly popular New Zealander was dead.
The Oxford-born Griffin admits it was a massive shock, and for a time he found it impossible to return to the gymnasium where the tragedy had occurred.
However, four months later, the Huddersfield star is ready to embark on a new season and with fond memories of a friendship forged between Watene and himself from their days together at the Wildcats just over three years ago.
"That day back in October is one I’ll obviously never forget," said Griffin.
"Even though Wats (how Watene was affectionately known to Griffin) and myself played for different clubs, we were still pretty close, and we were looking forward to training together.
"I was feeling in great heart after having played for England (against Wales) just a couple of days before, and Wats was feeling refreshed after his holiday in Florida. He’s obviously had a fantastic time and there was a fair bit of banter between the two of us.
"And, I stress, the two of us. After his death, it was widely reported that he was training with a number of the Wakefield lads, but it was just me and him.
"Because this was the off-season, we weren’t working flat-out.
"We started by warming up on the treadmill and then moved on to the squat rack and dip machine.
"It was then that Wats started to struggle.
"He was clearly struggling to breathe and I quickly helped him to lie on the floor. I thought he just needed a minute or two’s rest and he’d then be back on his feet.
"Unfortunately, it was soon obvious it was far more serious. There were other people in the gym at the time who came to help, including a nurse and a fireman, and then knew straight away that Wats was in a lot of trouble.
"It was immediately the case of calling for an ambulance and getting in touch with Moana and I went with him to the hospital.
"In fact, I was with him in the hospital room with his family right until the end.
"I have to admit that really hit me hard. I knew his family well and something like this must have been incredibly tough for them to take."
But even though Griffin shared some of the family’s heartache, he believes their strength helped him come to terms with such a painful experience.
"I couldn’t believe how strong his family was, especially his wife," he added.
"And I think their strength helped me.
"For a time, I couldn’t bear to go anywhere near Total Fitness where Wats had collapsed. But when some of the family came over from New Zealand they wanted me to take them to the gym to show them exactly where it had happened.
"I think it helped comfort them, and I know it helped me.
"But the one thing I couldn’t bring myself to do was see Adam in his open casket before he was flown back to New Zealand, even though the family had invited myself to do so.
"I decided that after seeing him at the gym and in the hospital, I wanted all the other memories of Adam to be positive ones.
"We’d had some great times together, and been part of some great experiences. I’ve still got a picture of the two of us together after we’d helped Wakefield beat Castleford to stay in Super League.
"But even though games like that one against Castleford was the battle for Super League survival and seemed so important at the time, the death of Wats put everything into perspective.
"That’s an important lesson I think everyone needs to learn."