• Owen Craigie Wests Tigers in action for the Wests Tigers. Credit: Nick Laham/ALLSPORT (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Owen Craigie was once down and out, but now he's a difference maker.
Adam Santarossa

6 Jun 2016 - 5:47 PM  UPDATED 11 Apr 2017 - 2:20 PM

Rugby League legend Andrew Johns once labelled Owen Craigie the most naturally gifted footballer he’d ever seen.

From natural instincts, speed and flare, to the material items that come with being a professional footballer, Owen Cragie had everything.

But then he had nothing.

His football career was over and his gambling addiction took hold, seeing the fruits of his NRL dream washed away.

It was quite the fall, but the climb was equally as great, and it happened at a speed unlike ever before.

Craigie joined NITV’s League Nation Live and shared his remarkable story.

Craigie grew up in Tingha, the town that gave us David Peachey and Preston Campbell.

He lived in housing commission, the oldest of seven children, in a town rife with drugs and alcohol.

Blessed with a rare talent for Rugby League, Craigie saw it as his ticket out.  

“I always dreamt of playing in the NRL, it was always a dream of mine to do that. I knew in my mind that I wanted to get out of Tingha, there was nothing there for me.

"A lot of my cousins were dying at a young age and drugs and alcohol were massive in the community, and I just knew that Rugby League was my chance to get out," said Craigie.

He was still in Year 10, barely 17-years-old when the Newcastle Knights handed him a NRL debut.

It was against the mighty Brisbane Broncos and suddenly Craigie was staring at the likes of Wendell Sailor and Steve Renouf in real life, not just on the footy cards he collected.

Craigie made an instant impact and plenty took notice, with Johns’ making his famous claim.

 “It’s still tough to take now really for the eighth immortal(Johns)  to give you such a wrap. He’s played alongside many great players all over the world and to give me that wrap is a huge honour.

Craigie hit first grade when the game was changing, the Super League war was in full swing and players were being thrown large amounts of money to pledge their allegiance to either side.

Newcastle Knights captain Paul Harrogan famously hired a bus and drove it down to Sydney so that all the players could sign up with the Australian Rugby League.

Craigie wasn’t on the bus, the teenager had to be at school.

But when he arrived home that afternoon, ARL Chairman John Quayle was on the phone. The ARL wanted him badly, even if he’d only played a handful of first grade games.

Only problem was, there’s wasn’t the only offer on the table says Craigie.  

“I was so close to signing with Super League and if the Hunter Mariners folded I could go to one of the other franchises. But they (ARL) gave me an open cheque book and said ‘this is what we think you’re worth’.

“The very next day I bought a four bedroom house with an in-ground pool at the age of 17.

“I brought Mum and Dad and all my brothers and sisters down and put them in a place at North Lambton,” Cragie tells.

But Craigie was living a lavish life at a very young age.

He once had a car imported from Europe through City Ford in Sydney, owned and operated by Sydney Roosters chairman Nick Politis.

It’s certainly not the common way to purchase your first car, let alone when you haven’t even got your learners license yet.

Craigie had to pay a friend $100 just to take the train down to Sydney and drive it back to Newcastle.  

It all came too easy for the Tingha native and Craigie, having seen much of the money go towards a gambling addiction, says that was the problem.

“I didn’t grow up with money and wasn’t taught how to save money.

“I was a young bloke. I had everything handed to me on a platter, I had good coin and I thought I’m sweet here, I don’t have to work on myself anymore.

“It’s probably the attitude I developed and over time my addiction just got out of control and gambling on anything really," reflects Craigie.

But Craigie now spends his time working with young Rugby League players, teaching them the pitfalls of living the fast life, as well as the impact gambling can have on your career and family.

He’s also an ambassador for Quitline’s ‘I Can Quit’ campaign where he stars in a nationally televised advertisement alongside dual international Timana Tahu.

The aim is to encourage Aboriginal people who smoke, to quit.

Craigie may no longer be able to shine on the football field like he did before, but he’s still making people stop and take notice.

It’s long been his art form, only now he’s using it to make a difference.  

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