Rabbitohs star takes younger brother out of harm’s way
Braidon Burns, in his spare time, has taken to studying the legalities of adoption.
Which as you might guess, is no easy thing.
"So I've spoken with some lawyers," he says. "Just to understand how, officially, things get done.
"There's a bit to it. And I'm not really sure where to go with everything yet. But unofficially … yeah, I'm already my brother's guardian."
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Seated with News Corp Australia before a South Sydney training session, Burns is talking through the latest chapter of a yarn that, truly, is like no other anywhere in the NRL.
Understanding that with his father in jail, mother in recovery and grandmother Gail, the closest person in his life, having died 12 months ago, Burns is now adopting younger brother Dray, 16.
Already, Burns has moved the schoolboy from Bathurst, where he was boarding at St Stanislaus College, and into the Miranda home he shares with girlfriend Tiannan.
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Elsewhere, this rising NRL star has started Dray in a new school - and speaks regularly with teachers - while also enrolling his brother in the local footy club and, as of the past few days, riding shotgun for his first driving lessons.
"And learning on the streets of Sydney," Burns cackles.
"It's a lot scarier than back home in the bush."
Still, this breakout Bunnies star has known worse.
Like when as a child growing up in Coonamble, this son of long-time drug users found mum overdosed in a car on the family driveway - unconscious, and with a needle hanging from her forearm.
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An unshakeable image, he says, from that childhood home where uncles shot heroin, family members brawled and the old man, despite countless promises of change, continually disappeared behind bars.
Which is why last March, and only weeks after burying nan, Burns agreed to publicly reveal his experiences with a rawness thought impossible from rugby league's Generation Z.
"And in telling my story, I did step on some toes within the family," he concedes.
"I know mum, she wasn't happy about it. And I don't blame her.
"But still, it was something I needed to get it out. Because I know there's a lot of young people out there who are in similar situations, or worse.
"And I thought if somebody drew even a little strength from my story, it could only be good."
Same deal now with Dray.
"After nan passed, my brother was struggling," Burns says.
"So I decided it would be best for him to move in with me.
"I know myself growing up without a father figure, I leant a lot on others, especially in school, just to get by.
"It's why now I want my brother to have the role model I never did.
"Although being honest, I've actually struggled with this more than I thought I would.
"I was a little naive at first, expected everything would run smoothly.
"But while things can get tough, it's also extremely rewarding to watch my brother grow into a better man.
"It's why I'm doing this.
"I want to be someone he looks up to. Someone he gets advice from.
"But mostly, I just want to be there. I want Dray to be able to lean on me."
Importantly, and despite his own strained relationship with family, Burns is not standing in the way of a developing relationship between his brother and their mum, Tanya.
"Dad, I think he's still locked up," Burns says.
"But Dray has a good relationship with mum, talks to her regularly.
"And that's not something I'd ever come between."
"I don't want to get hurt again," he says.
"So whenever I see mum, I'll still have a chat. Yet I also keep my distance, too.
"But Mum, she really is trying her best, and has made a big effort to have a strong relationship with Dray. I think that's good."
Having spent much of his young life seeking out, and eventually finding, strong male role models - such as Wallabies great Marty Roebuck - Burns reveals his past 12 months have involved a heavy reliance on Souths coach Wayne Bennett.
Apart from dealing with ongoing family issues, and trying to adopt Dray, who moved in just before Christmas, Burns also spent his summer working overtime on those troubled hamstrings that outed him for all but nine games last year.
"Wayne's come along at a really important time in my life," Burns says of the coach who was himself the son of an alcoholic.
"Last year, it was incredibly tough. And having Wayne to talk with really helped.
"I've never had a relationship with any coach before like this.
"There's just a trust there, real trust. It's why we've had some really deep and honest conversations together. Family stuff, mainly.
"I just know that with anything, I can go to him."
Despite his 2019 injury woes, Burns's time recovering from them helped grow a patience that, as every parent knows, is more essential to raising teenagers than even a stocked fridge.
"Around the house, I'm quite OCD," the Bunnies centre says, grinning.
"I have a way I want things to run and sometimes Dray … he, ah, challenges that.
"Every day, I'll give him a list of things to do before school. I've even set up an allowance, to ensure they get done.
"But some afternoons, I'll get home and nothing is finished. He forgets.
"Usually, I'll still give Dray the money anyway because I feel bad. That, and I'm trying to find a balance.
"Understanding my brother, he's still only 16. And has never had the influences to challenge him with the things that I am.
"It's why I need to be patient. Give Dray the opportunity to not only sort himself out, but find himself.
"We're both learning."