‘It still rocks me to this day’: Martin reflects on brother’s tragedy

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Phil Gould briefly mentioned the story during the TV coverage last Saturday night about Panthers forward Liam Martin and how his mother Maxine used to drive five hours from West Wyalong to Penrith every Friday afternoon, just so he could play SG Ball.

The pair would then make the long trek home late Saturday.

Liam Martin will head into the grand final with thoughts of his late brother Jarred.Credit:Janie Barrett

Maxine then phoned Liam who can still hear his mother's voice down the other end of the line.

"It's my clearest memory and still rocks me to this day," Liam told the Herald. "I was sitting at my dad's place and he was having a nap. Mum rang and she was in hysterics. I went outside because I didn't want him [Phillip] to wake up. I thought maybe she had had a car accident.

"I remember seeing my uncle walk up the driveway at that moment and mum said down the line, 'Jarred's dead'. I broke down, my uncle hugged me, then we had to go in and tell dad. It was the hardest thing. His mates found him. It was pretty rough."

Liam has thought a lot about his brother in recent weeks. He was described as a "blond" who acted on impulse. He had a habit of stealing friends' thongs. Random pairs are still often found where he is buried. Liam has always wondered if he knew what he knows now about mental health, maybe Jarred would still be alive.

Jarred (left) and Liam Martin did everything together.

Jarred, a talented footballer in the Canberra Raiders' lower grades before two ACL injuries cruelled his own NRL dream, had a huge influence on Liam's own career.

Jarred will not witness Liam play for the Panthers in Sunday's grand final, but family will be there. It would understandable if Maxine couldn't stop herself from giving Liam a giant squeeze and kiss after full-time at ANZ Stadium, despite the NRL's biosecurity protocols.

The brothers did everything together.

Maxine recalled them doing chin-ups on the branch of a tree. And how they would get into shape using empty kegs from one of the local pubs, as well as left-over tractor tyres.

Country life … Jarred and Liam Martin.

Maxine, a school teacher in West Wyalong, said those long round trips to Penrith and back helped her and Liam cope with their loss.

"I don't know whether you know but it's easier to talk to boys when you're side by side rather than in front of each other. I did that with Liam when we'd drive," Maxine said.

Proud mum Maxine Martin with her “beautiful boy” Liam.

"Our conversations were healing in a way. We'd talk a lot about Jarred."

Maxine said this year had been the most challenging since Jarred's death, because the COVD-19 pandemic and NRL's biosecutiry protocols have stopped her spending time with her youngest. The family bought a cardboard cutout of Maxine when the season restarted, but Liam could never find her when he searched the empty venues after each game.

Fortunately Maxine will be there in the flesh, along with a decent entourage from the bush, when the Panthers chase their first title since 2003.

Such is Liam's form, he might need to wait a little longer to get back home because of a NSW Origin call-up.

He often day-dreams about getting back to the Terminus Hotel in Temora and sharing a drink with another proud local and Penrith assistant Trent Barrett.

The local pre-school has put up a sign wishing Liam all the best. A school in West Wyalong filmed a video message for him on Thursday.

Liam, who got into the University of NSW to study Advanced Science, says he has struggles with anxiety – he once skipped an exam because he could not bring himself to leave the house – but knows a win over the Storm will mean so much to him and the Temora and West Wyalong communities.

Panthers teammate Billy Kikau has terrorised rival teams on the left edge, and Martin has provided little relief on the right side of the field.

Martin has an immense respect for "the ultimate professional" Cameron Smith "who has played more finals footy than I have career games".

He also respects getting to play with a guy like James Tamou whom he grew up idolising play for NSW and Australia.

Martin is pumped. If only Jarred was along for the ride.

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