He's now a convicted drug trafficker, but after an "extreme wake-up call" ex-Newcastle Knights NRL captain Jarrod Mullen wants to return to professional rugby league.
The 32-year-old was on Wednesday spared a jail sentence of up to 15 years for trafficking more than $10,000 worth of cocaine.
Mullen was instead given a three-year community corrections order and 300 hours of community service by Wollongong Local Court magistrate Jillian Kiely.
Ms Kiely noted Mullen's turnaround since a near fatal overdose in 2018 and his aspirations to become a role model for young league players.
"Not only has he personally and professionally hit rock bottom, he almost died from an accidental overdose and now suffers from permanent hearing loss," Ms Kiely said in her sentencing remarks.
"That would have served as an extreme wake-up call."
Mullen pleaded guilty in December to supplying cocaine, after police surveillance captured him purchasing 39 grams of cocaine over four separate occasions in November 2018.
Defence lawyer Paul McGirr earlier told the court Mullen's fall from grace was an "extremely sad situation".
"He was one of Newcastle's favourite sons. He now doesn't even want to return to the area," Mr McGirr said.
He told the court Mullen was "shattered" by his offending, and it made him sick to think of the impact it had on his family.
The former halfback played 211 matches for the Knights after debuting in 2005, represented NSW in a State of Origin match and was once tipped to be the next Andrew Johns.
Instead, his injury marred career was cut short in 2017 when he received a four-year ban after testing positive for steroids, prompting his downward spiral. The drug suspension ends in January 2021.
Mullen started selling cocaine for $300 per gram to finance his heavy drug habit, which culminated in his parents finding him overdosed on their couch in the weeks before Christmas.
In arguing for a community based sentence, his lawyer told the court the former star hopes to begin playing professional football again next year.
"He still is keen to get back into rugby league, and at 32 years of age he has his work cut out for him."
If that doesn't work out, Mr McGirr said Mullen aspired to become a role model and counsellor for trouble young rugby league players.
Australian Associated Press