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Brenko back from brink after turmoil and tragedy

When Brenko Lee lost his grandmother and "best mate" Loyla last year while at the Titans his world hit rock bottom and his future as a professional footballer appeared bleak.

A mere 12 months later, he will play centre for the Storm against the Panthers in Sunday’s grand final after what he called "a life-changing experience, mentally and physically" under Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy. 

Last year at the Gold Coast he lost his way after his nan died.

"I got to about 110kg or 111kg and I was super unfit. I had some time off because my nan had passed away. She was my best mate and I took it pretty hard," he said.

"The Titans were good about it, they gave me time off and I was at rock bottom then. I wasn't in a good frame of mind and coming here was the fresh air I needed.

"Bellyache showed me tough love and he reminded me how good I could be, and that I could be at my best if I trained hard."

When the 25-year-old speaks of his nan, who died after battling diabetes on dialysis, it is with love and appreciation for their close bond and how much support she gave him.

“My nan was a diehard Bulldogs fan. When I moved to Canterbury, she was on dialysis and she had to go to hospital Monday, Wednesday and Saturday,” he said.

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"If we played on Saturdays, she would miss her appointments to come to my games and feel really sick the next day and really run down. She shouldn't have been doing it, but she has been by my side since I was a kid.

"I took it tough when she passed away and every game I play now I just remember her saying she wishes I could get the best out of myself, because she could see how much talent I've got.

"She didn't think I was lazy but just not caring enough about things, and coming here [to Melbourne] I wish she was still alive to see what I am achieving now."

Lee was living in Glebe with his nan in Sydney while at the Bulldogs and his care for her also reveals his own big heart.

"They would take her blood and put it back in her slowly. She was on pills and injections and she would have insulin," he recalled.

"I remember coming back after a hard day of Bulldogs training under Des [Hasler] and she would be calling me upstairs and I would have to get her pills ready. I wouldn't change it for the world, what I did for her."

Lee had a strong game in the 30-10 preliminary final win over the Raiders after taking the field with tears in his eyes following the sad loss of his cousin Edrick Lee’s mum, Connie.

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It is why he said he would dedicate Sunday’s grand final “to my nan and also to my aunty who got buried on Friday, Edrick's mum.

"At the start of the game, I was a bit teary because they laid my aunty to rest on Friday and Edrick got an exemption to come to the funeral and come back the same day.

"I knew I had a job to do, I had to clear my mind and I'm glad we didn't give Canberra a sniff."

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Lee told recently how he was close to giving the game away after not having a contract after finishing with the Titans and then spending a frustrating fortnight at Melbourne Rebels on a trial. He elaborated this week on how bad it really got.

"Melbourne Rebels came calling my manager and after two weeks of trying union, I didn't understand the sport and felt useless. After every training session, I would go home and be almost in tears at how useless I felt," he said.

"I was so un-coordinated. I didn't know how to place the ball back and kept giving away penalties in opposed sessions. I was like ‘man, what am I doing’. That was a blow to me.

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"If you told me I would have been in a grand final, I would have asked what you are smoking because I didn't think it was possible. I was close to pulling the pin completely.

"It's very special for me and my family. At one stage I never thought I would be in a finals series, let alone a grand final.

"No disrespect to the clubs I was at, but this club is so successful in what they do and four grand finals in five years is unheard of."

Lee is set to be named in the Maroons squad on Sunday night after the grand final.

"I did everything at 100% on the training paddock. I used to not train as hard but then would come to the game and try to play my best football. Coming here trained my mindset straight away," he said.

"If you want to perform on a Sunday you have to train on a Monday. You can't think you will bluff your way through a game, it just doesn't happen like that. Now, with my mindset, come warm up I'm ready to rock and roll.

"I have a big job against [Stephen] Crichton. He has been the form centre of the comp and if I can stop him, the rest will be history. If I do get a call from Wayne Bennett or from the Origin selectors, I will take it with both hands."

Acknowledgement of Country

Melbourne Storm respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.