Braith Anasta faced stiff competition to become the new host of flagship Fox Sports footy show NRL 360, but in the end he got the gig because he had been through hell and had the resilience to come out the other side.
Now, the premiership-winning representative star has opened up on how the tragic death of his father tore his world to pieces and how he rebuilt himself to become the star athlete, media personality and loving parent that he has become today.
Peter Anastasakis is the epitome of why suicide can impact anyone – and how it comes with no warning. He was a handsome and popular young father, a successful business owner and his friends and family all loved him dearly.
A young Braith Anasta with his father Peter visit the beach in a happier time
When Braith was just 15, Peter took his own life. No warning, no explanation. He was just gone.
‘It’s something I don’t think I will ever get over,’ Braith told the Daily Telegraph.
‘It’s tragic, my family has never been the same. Mum, my brother, they haven’t been able to come to terms with it all.
‘Mum is by far and away my greatest role model. She’s an incredible woman.’
It took many years for a young Anasta to face his grief. A naturally gifted athlete, Anasta could have taken his pick on a professional sporting career in cricket, golf, rugby or league.
Anasta was a brilliant young half and was selected for Australia when he was just 19
The shocking loss of his father could have derailed that, but instead Anasta used his sport as a way to distract him, to run from his grief.
He was lining up to tee off for the Jack Newton Junior Golf state titles at Bowral the very next day.
‘I said to my family, “I’m going – I’m playing”,’ Anasta said.
‘My uncle caddied for me and I kept moving on with my life and I didn’t quite deal with the grief at the time.
‘That’s why it still hits me. A lot of the other family dealt with it then.
‘Me? I played golf, rugby union, signed a contract with Souths at 16, then signed a deal at the Bulldogs and it was one thing after another keeping me going.
‘It distracted me at the time. But then it would come back and hit me at later times.’
It wouldn’t take long before Anasta would be forced to deal with the pain. In school, he was always celebrated for his sporting achievements. In professional sport, a target was painted on his back.
At the height of his career Anasta was voted the most overrated player in the NRL in a now-defunct rugby league magazine. It confused him, angered him and ripped open all the old wounds.
The grief came flooding back in a torrent.
‘There’s an epidemic of suicide now and that’s why they couldn’t do that [player poll] now. The impact mentally it would have on athletes … would be too much,’ he said.
‘I was angry at the world. And I questioned it [Dad’s passing] every day.
NRL legend and Fox pundit Braith ANasta as a child with his mother Kim and father Peter
Today, Anasta is in a loving relationship with his partner Rachael Lee and they share three children, two from previous relationships but all regarded as equal and fulltime brothers and sisters.
Anasta retired from a decorated NRL career in 2014, but it would be another three years before he would publicly acknowledge the pain he had buried behind his sporting accolades.
He penned an open letter, published through News Corp, where he finally let all of the pain out.
‘My hero was gone, and what hurts the most is not being able to say goodbye. Not being able to touch you, hug you, kiss you, play golf with you … nothing … zero,’ he wrote.
‘Our family was broken. We were in complete and utter shock, in tatters, in pieces. Our hero, our provider and our rock was gone forever.
Anasta is now a father of three children – Addison, Aleeia and Gigi – pictured with wife Rachel
‘I will never know or understand why you decided to take your own life that day. I couldn’t imagine you being in such a dark place. I had resentment for years and found it hard to accept how you could do that to mum and our family.
‘But I now know you must of been very sick and in desperate need of help.
‘The only way I knew was to power on. I needed a distraction, I needed a release and sport was certainly that. I wanted to be successful and I used it as a driving force to do you and the family proud.’
Fast forward back to today and Anasta still feels every ounce of that pain. He has found his happiness with the family he devotes his life to. He has found his calling in the media, a long-held ambition realised. There is just one thing missing.
‘I just wish Dad was here to see me.’
Help is available for all Australians
If you are experiencing depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, there is help available.
Beyond Blue aims to increase awareness of depression and anxiety and reduce stigma. Call 1300 22 4636, 24 hours/7 days a week, chat online or email.
Lifeline provides 24-hour crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14, text on 0477 13 11 14 (12pm to midnight AEST) or chat online.
Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free 24/7 confidential and private counselling service specifically for children and young people aged 5 – 25. Call 1800 55 1800.