The death at the age of 32 of Ryan Tandy brings to a tragic end one of the most turbulent of rugby league careers – one in which the high points were heavily outweighed by the low. The prop forward played at the highest level on both sides of the world, won a Grand Final in Australia and represented Ireland in a World Cup. He will be remembered primarily, however, for being banned from the game for life for a ham-fisted attempt at match-fixing to try to pay off his gambling debts. An addiction to gambling was one of the demons that pursued him, but it was not the only one.
Tandy made his first-team debut for St George Illawarra in 2003. It was to be start of a nomadic career. In Australia, he also played for South Sydney, West Tigers, Melbourne and Canterbury; in England for Hull KR, Widnes, Whitehaven, Barrow and Doncaster – none of them for very long. At all his clubs, many team-mates described him as the life and soul of the party and an inveterate practical joker. Some noticed, however, that his betting threatened to go out of control.
There were tangible achievements on the pitch as well. In 2007, he was a member of the Hull KR side that played in Super League for the first time and a forward whose experience was invaluable as the club established itself at that level. The following year, by now a West Tigers player, he was selected for the Ireland team that played in the World Cup in Australia, qualifying through an Irish grandparent. He played against Tonga and Samoa in the group stages and against Fiji in a semi-final qualifier, which Ireland lost 30-14 to be eliminated. A message of condolence from the Irish Rugby league after his death this week referred to him as "a larger than life character." A statement from Hull KR said that he had served that club with distinction.
His most unexpected success, however, was playing in the 2009 NRL Grand Final with the crack Melbourne Storm team which is still arguably the best club side Australia has produced in the last decade or more. Journeyman footballer he might have been, but that day he lined up with the likes of Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith in the team that beat the Parramatta Eels 23-16. It proved a hollow victory when it became one of the titles that was taken from the Storm retrospectively for their flagrant breaches of the game's salary cap.
He moved on to the Canterbury Bulldogs, where the last act of his career was to be played out. In the opening round of the NRL competition in 2011, something very strange happened. With great deliberation, Tandy got himself penalised right in front of the Canterbury goalposts at the start of the game. It emerged at his hearing that he had placed a large bet on the first points of the game being a penalty goal to their opponents, the North Queensland Cowboys.
Typically, the Cowboys ruined all the calculations by running the ball instead, but the intent was there and a League hearing suspended him from playing sine die. Despite that, he played in France for the Pia Donkeys in 2012. It was back in Australia that his troubled life ended, although friends said that he had been in good spirits and was looking forward to the publication of a "tell all" autobiography.
He was living at his parents' house on the Central Coast of New South Wales as a condition of his bail on a charge of kidnapping. Tandy was alleged to have been the "hired muscle" in a plan to collect a drug debt from the victim. He was described locally as a well-known drug-user himself. He is thought to have died of an overdose and NSW Police said that there were no suspicious circumstances.
Ryan Tandy, rugby league player: born Woollongong, New South Wales 20 September 1981; died Saratoga, New South Wales 28 April 2014.