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Dylan Walker and Aaron Gray have privately told teammates they are “definitely upset about what they have done” but the Rabbitohs squad is rallying behind the pair and being kept up to date by skipper Greg Inglis via group mobile-messaging app WhatsApp.

Walker, 20, and Gray, 21, were hospitalised in the early hours of Tuesday morning after overdosing on prescription drugs given to them to relieve pain from post-season surgery.

Gray was found in a worse condition than Walker in the former’s granny flat outside his family home. The pair required the attention of eight paramedics following a triple-0 call made by lower-grade player Jake O’Sullivan. Their condition has since improved.

Souths teammates Chris McQueen and Dave Tyrrell – who are in Papua New Guinea preparing for the Prime Minister’s XIII game against PNG on Saturday evening – said they were shocked by the news Walker and Gray were being treated for a suspected overdose.

McQueen, Tyrrell and the rest of the Rabbitohs squad have made it clear to the players they have their full support. “When you see one of your teammates and one of your brothers in need, everyone wants to do whatever they can to support and help them,” McQueen said. “All the boys obviously wanted to go and see them and the boys were sending messages of support.”

Tyrrell described the news as “pretty unexpected” and his focus is purely on their wellbeing. Souths players, including Tyrrell and McQueen, have texted Walker and Gray in hospital with their best wishes.

Tyrrell said the duo were distressed by what they decided to do that night – the best indication yet the pair knowingly took the drugs for reasons other than what was prescribed to them. “They’re definitely upset about what they’ve done,” Tyrrell said. “It’s a hard lesson to learn and they’re going to learn from it and be better people from it as a result.”

Captain Greg Inglis has been updating his teammates on their condition through WhatsApp over the past few days. It has also been an opportunity for players to support each other and make sure they are coping emotionally.

“We’ve got a chat group that we’re all in and Greggy [Inglis] has been talking to the coaching staff and he’s been getting updates and passing that on to all the boys,” McQueen said. “It’s an easy way to get informed. I’ve sent them [Walker and Gray] a few texts and they’ve been able to text but they’re still recovering. In time, we’ll get to see the boys and catch up with them and see how they are.”

Asked whether they knew if the players were drinking alcohol or energy drinks with the drugs on that fateful night, McQueen said: “I can’t imagine that.”

The incident has sparked debate about whether rugby league has a prescription drug problem – a conclusion McQueen and Tyrrell refuted, despite claims from Roosters coach Trent Robinson that it is a “big issue in the game”.

“There’s still a stigma among rugby league players that they love to get on the drink and take drugs and that sort of thing, but it’s not like that,” McQueen said. “It hasn’t been like that for a long time. It is professional now. The players look after their bodies.

“I don’t know if that’s a label that we’ll ever shake as rugby league players, but I certainly think it’s unfair. This is not a reason to stop taking painkillers; they have their place as do all the other sorts of medication. It’s just about being smart and being aware of what you’re doing.

“I don’t think it’s a problem in rugby league, l think it’s probably a problem for society.”

McQueen suggested greater education “would certainly help” and “go a long way”, while Tyrrell agreed the issue was society-wide rather than confined to rugby league circles.

“I’ve never seen anything that says rugby league has a massive problem,” Tyrrell said. “It’s definitely a society thing I feel, people are open to so many influences out there in the world and it’s up to that person really.”

Fellow Souths players Alex Johnston and Adam Reynolds are also with the Prime Minister’s squad in Papua New Guinea but are still coming to terms with nearly losing one, or potentially both of their close friends. 

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