In his first interview since being acquitted of sexual assault charges, Brisbane Broncos NRL hopeful Tristan Sailor opened up on the moment he was acquitted.
Tristan Sailor found his calling in NSW District Court last year.
It appeared as he fought for his freedom, his NRL career blossomed and his academic dreams threatened to be taken from him.
Sailor was on trial after being charged with two counts of serious sexual assault following an alleged incident involving a woman in October 2020. If found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
After making his NRL debut for the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2019, Sailor was withdrawn immediately after charges were brought and was unable to play in rugby league.
With his famous father, dual-code superstar Wendell Sailor, and his mother Tara by his side, Sailor made the 90-minute journey from Wollongong to Sydney Courthouse every day.
A predicted week-long trial last March turned into a month-long affair as Sailor’s future was in the hands of a 10-person jury.
After weeks of solid evidence and testimony, it took the jury just two hours to acquit Sailor of both counts.
Those two words – not guilty – ended the uncertainty and turmoil that surrounded Sailor for 18 months.
But what he found during the most traumatic time of his life set his path for the future.
“I’ve always had an interest in going into law,” Sailor said in his first interview since his acquittal.
“So when I went through it … I saw how the process works and it piqued my interest. I was very interested in studying it, but after the verdict I had to think about whether I wanted to continue or do something else.
“It’s something that stayed with me. It’s something I could imagine afterwards. I like the way you can help and advocate for people.
“I saw my lawyer, the high morals and ethics he had and how intelligent he was. I could imagine doing that.”
LAW & BORDER CROSSING
Sailor moved to Brisbane for a fresh start after his court case.
After completing his Commerce degree in 2020, Sailor earned a Bachelor of Arts (English Literature and Creative Writing) while retiring from rugby league.
He is enrolled in a Juris Doctor of Law at Griffith University, a postgraduate course that will pave the way for his legal practice.
He starts next month and plans to study full-time while chasing an NRL return with the Brisbane Broncos – the club his father scored 110 tries in 189 games for.
The 24-year-old Sailor will don a Broncos jersey for the first time when he starts at full-back in Saturday’s preseason friendly against Wynnum-Manly at Brisbane Bay.
It will be a defining moment for someone who grew up in Red Hill’s sanctum among the greatest Broncos players in the club’s rich 35-year history.
“I’ve loved the Broncos since I was a kid,” Sailor said.
“Dad won a couple of big finals here and there are photos of me as a little kid with him after they won a big final.
“It’s always been in my blood. I’ve always been very fond of the Broncos. It was great coming here.
“The strength record board is up in the gym and Dad still has one of the records. I think it’s the squat record because of his big butt.
“There is a sense of belonging here”
THE MAN WITHIN
With a passion for learning and a book club membership, Sailor could be considered one of Rugby League’s most unique characters.
His body is covered in tattoos, including portraits of famous artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and author James Baldwin – both advocates of anti-racism.
He wrote a novel – Echoes of the Soul – while banned from playing the game during his NRL-imposed No Fault Stand Down and plans to pursue multiple degrees.
“I’ve always loved to read,” said Sailor.
“I ended up writing a novel for one of my classes. We had to write 20,000 words, but I just kept writing. It was about a young man who goes overseas and travels the world… a coming-of-age story.
“I’ve worked as a barista in a bookstore cafe and worked in construction, which was really good.
“It gave me gratitude for football. It’s physical and tiring for 10 hours a day and has shown you how lucky you are.”
Not being allowed to play rugby, Sailor took up Jiu-Jitsu and Oztag.
TWO WORDS – NOT GUILTY
He’s been busy and leaning on family and friends to prepare for a high-profile court case.
The process was incredibly detailed and exhausting, but Sailor was eventually acquitted.
“It was pretty crazy because the process took three weeks longer than we expected,” Sailor said.
“We didn’t know how long the deliberations would last, but we were confident.
“After about an hour we were told they wanted us but we figured it was just a jury question. When we entered they said there was a verdict.
“I smiled at Mum and Dad because I knew they were struggling the most. When they said the verdict (not guilty) it was a huge relief. I was fine but Dad cried the loudest and Mum was obviously very upset too.
“It was just this relief. It didn’t really start working until a few weeks later. You get into that mindset of getting through it.
“I couldn’t handle it at the time. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I clicked my way in and started thinking about what’s next. I could get on with life.”
THE LIFELINE OF FOOTBALL
Based on the verdict, Sailor received two calls that would take him to Brisbane.
The first came from former Broncos and Maroons star Justin Hodges, assistant coach at Souths Logan, Queensland reserve club.
The second came from current Broncos winger Jordan Pereira, a former Dragons teammate who also played with South’s Logan.
They wanted Sailor to come up north, escape the Sydney fishbowl and restart his NRL career in the city where his father became a sporting superstar.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to return to football right away, but the opportunity presented itself,” he said.
“Initially, I was a little hesitant because of the public scrutiny and media attention it would bring.
“I’ve seen my friends run and debut really well in the NRL. I was super happy for them but it made me want to try and get back in there.
“It would be a tremendous achievement (to play NRL for the Broncos), not even personally, but for my family and the people who have supported me.
“To have my dad’s name on the wall and to win the grand finals here, the Broncos are such a respected club. Putting the jersey on in the first place is such a huge achievement. That’s definitely something I’m striving for.”
THE NRL RETURN
After playing with South’s Logan in last year’s Hostplus Cup, the Broncos offered Sailor a train-and-trial contract for the 2023 preseason.
He has impressed coach Kevin Walters and is close to landing a full-time NRL Premiership contract.
That would take him another step closer to following in his father’s footsteps and playing NRL for the Broncos, an impressive feat considering he was fighting for his future less than a year ago.
Despite being acquitted by the courts and starting his life anew, Sailor understands that perceptions can last. But he is determined to make the best of what lies ahead.
“I don’t know how I dealt with it,” he said.
“When you get through footy you have to be mentally tough to get through things.
“I felt like I was doing pretty well with it. I think of some of the young people and how they might deal with it. I’m good at dealing with resilience.
“Then there is a public perception of you. That’s one of the harder things, it stays with you forever. You have to be strong within yourself and go through the process.
“The way I see it now is that I’m here in Brisbane, I’ve had a new opportunity and I’ve met so many lovely friends. I have two university degrees under my belt and am doing a postgraduate law degree.
“It’s been tough at times, but in general I’ve been able to enjoy and experience a lot more things over time and also regain my appreciation for the game.
“I believe everything happens for a reason. I look where I am now and I’m happy.”
Originally released as the Brisbane Broncos, hopeful Tristan Sailor is looking to study law while restarting his NRL career
https://www.codesports.com.au/nrl/brisbane-broncos-hopeful-tristan-sailor-wants-to-study-law-as-he-relaunches-his-nrl-career/news-story/6c2172d05d62c6eaaa40f1fdb666ce81?nk=9a592eedab6a7f5f00e5d1bb10e81851-1675479187 Brisbane Broncos hopeful Tristan Sailor wants to study law while restarting his NRL career