Jamal Idris seems like the guy I’d want at my six-year-old boy’s birthday party; he’d be the headline entertainment act for the kids and I reckon he’d be a hit whether he was whacking a pinata or talking Pokemon.
They would listen to him – he’s six-foot-five and 110kg.
They would laugh with him – he’s nearly always wearing a playful smile. He giggles like a big kid.
He’s also the guy I’d like to have a beer with and the type of personality the NRL should cherish.
He belts opposition back-rowers on the field but isn’t all alpha off it.
He’s athletic and skilful but would just as rather talk about how he’s trying to build an orphanage in Ghana, he played for NSW and Australia before his 21st birthday but last year as a 25-year-old shunned big bucks to travel the world.
He’s far from a hats-off-full-credit-110 per cent NRL cliche.
He gave a lot of himself early on when he started with Canterbury and then Gold Coast, talking openly and candidly in numerous interviews and more often than not contemplating life rather than the following weekend’s left-side attacking threats.
But he evidently offered up too much of himself.
He admitted he subsequently couldn’t go to the local shopping centre without copping it from rival fans.
The fame made him paranoid and depressed.
His relative complexity and draining anxiety contributed to Idris walking away from the NRL at the end of the 2015 season to find himself.
He went from snowboarding in Canada, partying at Coachella in California, seeing Stonehenge in England, being almost kidnapped in Vietnam and hiking through the bottom of the Himalayas.
“It is so amazing to be able to walk around where people don’t recognise you, where people aren’t judging your every little action,” he told News Limited only two weeks ago.
So as Idris prepares to make his debut with the Wests Tigers – his fourth NRL club – it’s worth asking how he should approach his return to the NRL so the chances of any mental demons returning are minimised.
Should he shun the media so as not to open himself up again to the public – the kind of exposure that was the catalyst for his exile from the game almost 18 months ago?
Even if he does, would a poor game mean he potentially gets ridiculed publicly?
Does the media have a responsibility, given his past, to give Idris space as he finds his feet and ensure his return is relatively low-key?
If he decides to cocoon himself away or is advised to by the welfare officers at the Wests Tigers or NRL, is that even more dangerous?
Isolating someone, even if they say they prefer it can be counter-productive.
It’s just that kind of separation from the outside world that has been blamed for professional athletes struggling to cope with the transition post-playing.
My hope is we will see plenty of Idris in front of the camera this season and beyond.
He’s entertaining and his energy and honesty are infectious. Hopefully, Idris’s travels and time away from the NRL have given him a new perspective and he feels comfortable being the refreshing and heartfelt character he’s been previously.