Ben Cousins says he feels 'very fortunate' to be back at the AFL's night of nights as the former Brownlow medallist makes his surprise appearance at the awards.
The ex-West Coast Eagles captain has spent time in jail for a series of drug, violence and stalking offences after battling addiction and mental health issues during and in the years following his retirement from footy.
The 43-year-old, who won the game's highest prize in 2005, arrived at the awards night in Perth on Sunday evening alongside date Kelley Hayes dressed sharply in a black dinner suit and bowtie.
'I'm just very fortunate that I got the opportunity to come to one of football's great nights,' Cousins said on the red carpet.
'It's definitely a big night, it's been a while since I've been to one of the football industry nights so I'm looking forward to it.'
Ben Cousins says he feels 'very fortunate' to be back at the AFL's night of nights as the former Brownlow medallist makes his surprise appearance at the awards
'I'm just very fortunate that I got the opportunity to come to one of football's great nights,' Cousins said on the red carpet
The disgraced former AFL star said there had been a lot of working 'behind the scenes' to get him ready and prepared to attend the AFL's biggest night, but repeatedly underlined how happy he was to be there.
'A little bit behind the scenes but that's part of it, trying to solve some situations along the way,' he said.
'It's just great to be here tonight.'
Past winners of the award receive invitations to attend the awards night which names the season's best player, but until now he's never taken the league up on the offer.
With the Brownlow being held in his hometown of Perth this year, Cousins accepted the invitation to attend, causing intrigue with both fans and current players alike.
'I actually forgot that he was coming tonight but I haven't seen him yet,' West Coast star Nic Naitanui said.
'It's good to have a bit of West Coast royalty in and seeing him doing well, so I'm excited to see Ben inside actually.'
Natanui, who is now the face of Cousins' Eagles, says it's a 'step in the right direction' for the ex-convict, who he admitted would 'steal the show' away from the game's biggest stars.
'I met him at a young age and I've had a bit to do with him early on in my career before I got drafted,' he recalled.
'Obviously wearing his number at West Coast, we've got that special connection whether we like it or not.
Cousins, who won the game's highest prize in 2005, arrived at the awards night in Perth on Sunday evening alongside date Kelley Hayes dressed sharply in a black dinner suit and bowtie
The 43-year-old Cousins (pictured with Susan Backshell), who won the 2005 Brownlow, is reportedly set to accept an invitation to the AFL's main award ceremony as he cleans his life up and re-embraces the sport
Ben Cousins is set to make a shock appearance at Sunday's Brownlow Medal count (pictured 2019), in what would be a rare public engagement more than a decade after hanging up his boots
Ben Cousins was the poster boy of the AFL before his infamous meth addiction took over his life
Speaking at a function earlier this month, the midfielder said he's finally got clean after his infamous methamphetamine addiction and his six stints in jail.
'I appreciate the support of everyone and how many chances they have given me, more than I deserve and more than I would have given anyone else,' Cousins said, according to The West Australian.
He has now found work in the demolition industry and said his return to footy as a player in Perth's Metro Football League had helped to turn his life around.
'I'm also loving my club footy (with the Queens Park Bulldogs), it keeps me busy,' he told the audience at the WA Italian Club.
Cousins had a tumultuous relationship with the mother of his children Maylea Tinecheff (pictured right)
This year's Brownlow Medal count and the AFL Grand Final the following weekend, are being held in Perth due to Covid restrictions in Melbourne.
Players from the two Perth clubs, West Coast and Fremantle, will attend, along with those of the two grand finalist, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs - albeit in a separate room as they take precautions against any Covid infection.
Cousins, a father-of-two, also divulged how his out of control off-field behaviour rattled his good friends and Chris Judd, the man who replaced him as Eagles skipper.
'I let my club down and I put Juddy in a tough spot,' Cousins said. 'And I feel for him... through my issues I put him in a tough position.'
Cousins' fall from grace was as sad as it was spectacular.
Virtually untouchable and revered after winning a premiership in 2006, Cousins career quickly took a turn for the worse.
At his peak, Cousins was undoubtedly the best player in the AFL, with his rapid demise and subsequent total unwillingness to rid himself of negative life influences leaving him a disgrace in the eyes of many who previously hero-worshipped him.
The penny finally dropped last year for Cousins.
Sitting in a cold, cramped jail cell for the sixth time in 13 years, the man known as 'Cuz' was ashamed and ready to atone.
Buoyed by the knowledge that getting clean and healthy was the key to being a good dad to his children, he soon started talking to Susan Backshell, a mental health support worker.
Cousins leaves the Fremantle Magistrates Court in Perth in 2017. Virtually untouchable and revered after winning a premiership in 2006, Cousins career quickly took a turn for the worse
Ben Cousins and Chris Judd of the West Coast Eagles celebrate their premiership victory in 2006
Ms Backshell managed to achieve what many previously had failed to do with Cousins - establish a positive connection and get in his head space for the right reasons.
She issued him a blunt ultimatum soon after they met: 'Give your all, or forget it entirely'.
Since last year, he has volunteered at several events in and around Perth with Ms Backshell's community group KALT Collective, acting as a beacon of hope for disadvantaged youths, addicts and reformed criminals.
'Nobody actually knows what amazing stuff he's doing,' Ms Backshell said.
'Everybody is willing to judge him, but this guy has worked his ass off to get to where he is today.'
The flow on effect has seen Cousins able to spend more time with his children - his son Bobby, 9, and daughter Angelique, 7.
Cousins is also 'loving' playing park footy with the Queens Park Bulldogs - despite his 'dodgy' hamstrings
Cousins battled an addiction to narcotics stretching as far back as 2006 when he was a professional AFL player (pictured on his documentary Such Is Life from 2010)
'His kids are everything to him, he truly is an amazing dad. He's phenomenal,' Ms Backshell said.
'And they adore him.'
Before his well-overdue epiphany, Cousins had been in and out of jail since 2010 on drug and domestic violence charges.
He was also deregistered by the AFL in 2007 after bringing the game into disrepute, before eventually returning two years later with Richmond, albeit a shadow of the player he once was.
Determined his dark days are now finally over, Cousins has also developed an affinity with the Indigenous community in WA and has taken pride in developing relationships.
'He's absolutely a role model, an inspiration,' Ms Backshell added.
Ben Cousins credits Susan Backshell, (pictured right) a mental health support worker, for helping turn his life around
Ben Cousins has been in and out of jail six times, in a sad - and public - fall from grace - he is now determined to stay clean
THE TROUBLED LIFE AND TIMES OF BEN COUSINS:
1996 - Makes AFL debut with West Coast and is named the league's Rising Star
2001 - Named club captain of West Coast at age 23
2002 - Breaks his arm falling down a flight of stairs at a nightclub months after punching his teammate Daniel Kerr
2005 - (May) Is quizzed by police about association with underworld identities
- (September) Wins Brownlow medal as the AFL's best and fairest player
Cousins after the 2006 AFL Grand Final
2006 - (February) Swims across a Perth river to escape a booze bus
- (September) Wins AFL premiership with the Eagles
- (December) Is arrested after passing out in front of Melbourne's Crown Casino and spends four hours in jail
2007 - (March) Suspended by West Coast after missing training session
- (April) Goes to a drug rehabilitation facility in the US
- (October) Revealed to have visited fellow Eagles legend Chris Mainwaring twice on the night he died of a drug overdose
- (October) Arrested and charged with drug offences that are later dropped
- (November) Eventually sacked by West Coast and banned from the AFL for one year
2008 - AFL re-registers Cousins and he is signed by Richmond
2010 - Retires from the AFL but releases autobiography and documentary
Cousins has been charged with drug possession and refusing a drug test in 2007, but the charges were later dropped
2015 - Arrested three times before leading police on a slow-speed car chase
2016 - (June) Spotted behaving erratically and directing traffic on a highway
- (October) In and out of court over drug offences and breaches a restraining order taken out by his ex-partner
2018 - (January) Released from jail on parole just 10 months into his sentence
He takes up a community support role with the West Coast Eagles - a requirement of his parole conditions
- (May): Reports emerge he hasn't been seen at the club for a month
The club confirms the he told officials in April he no longer wanted the job
- (August) Arrested and charged with drug possession and breaching a restraining order
2019 - (February) He was fined $1,750 for possessing meth and hiding it up his anus while in jail
(March) Cousins pleaded not guilty to 14 offences in court, including breaching a family violence restraining order and a count each of aggravated stalking and threatening to injure, endanger or harm
(April) Cousins is arrested in Perth with a Cousins is released from jail on bail after eight months inside.
2020 - (March) Tell-all documentary Coming Clean goes to air - Cousins opens up about his meth addiction and time behind bars.
(April) Cousins is arrested in Perth after allegedly being caught with 2.5grams of methamphetamine while asleep beside his car.
He is remanded in custody after pleading guilty to possessing methamphetamine and incurring a $1500 fine.
He is also charged with aggravated stalking of his ex-partner, Maylea Tinecheff.
(October) Cousins pleads not guilty to aggravated stalking and 20 counts of breaching a family violence restraining order relating to his ex-partner.
(November) He is convicted of stalking his ex-partner but acquitted by a Perth court of restraining order breaches. He is sentenced to seven months jail, which is backdated to April.
He is released from Hakea prison in late November.
2021 - Cousins returns to the footy field playing for the Queens Park Bulldogs in Perth's Metro Football League