The downfall of ex-Newcastle Knights captain Jarrod Mullen reached its messy conclusion inside a Wollongong courtroom on Wednesday as the one-time State of Origin player was branded a convicted criminal for life.
He avoided jail time, instead being sentenced to a three-year community corrections order, complete with 300 hours of unpaid work he must perform as quasi-'payback' for the hurt his actions caused the broader community.
But the 32-year-old appeared to have his sights set firmly on the future: primarily as a first-time father, with his girlfriend due to give birth to their child next week. But his lawyer, Paul McGirr, also revealed the disgraced NRL player wants to stage a comeback into the sport that gave him so much, then took it all away.
It would be a tall order - even Mr McGirr said at Mullen's age he'd have his "work cut out for him" to resurrect his career. For now, Mullen will have plenty of time to reflect on his actions as he is put to work for the betterment of the community - and himself.
Just ever since my career finished, I spiralled out of control and was taking cocaine on a daily basis just to get through the day, to suppress the demons, I suppose.
The court heard Mullen almost died from a cocaine overdose in December 2018, just weeks after police recorded him engaging in drug deals with his up-line supplier.
His distraught parents found him unconscious on their lounge and he was rushed to hospital, then frog-marched to an intensive rehabilitation program. He managed to kick his habit and has been clean and sober since then, but everyday remains a struggle.
Mullen painted a dire picture of his situation leading up to that fateful night when interviewed by police following his arrest in May 2019.
"Just ever since my career finished, I spiralled out of control and was taking cocaine on a daily basis just to get through the day, to suppress the demons, I suppose," Mullen said.
"And a lot of prescription drugs, stuff which led me to rehab ... well I did go through a dark stage, yeah."
An explanation perhaps, but not an excuse: Mullen knows that now.
He has accepted responsibility for his actions, admitting he purchased 39 grams of cocaine worth about $12,000 on the black market in four separate transactions over a seven-day period in November 2018.
Some was for on-selling to friends for a small profit, the rest was for putting up his own nose, so financially taxing was his daily habit.
Mr McGirr said Mullen had hit "rock bottom" after his dramatic fall from grace following the abrupt ending of his NRL career in 2017 over a steroid scandal.
Frustrated that he'd never risen to be the "next Andrew Johns", as so many had predicted, Mullen fell into a deep depression that resulted in him turning to drugs to cope.
Mr McGirr described it as an "extremely sad" situation for "one of Newcastle's favourite sons".
"No one who takes cocaine... ever says their life has improved since they used cocaine," he said.
"He has had a very big fall from grace, he's hit rock bottom, [but] he's well and truly on the road to recovery.
"I have confidence we won't see him darken the doors of the courtroom again."
It was a statement Magistrate Jillian Kiely willingly accepted in agreeing to extend Mullen a degree of leniency.
She noted Mullen had effectively done more to punish himself than she ever could: "not only has he personally and professionally hit rock bottom, he almost died of an accidental overdose and now suffers from permanent hearing loss as a result of his drug use".