Sailor breaks silence after rape trial acquittal

In his first interview since being acquitted of sexual assault charges, Brisbane Broncos NRL hopeful Tristan Sailor has opened up on the moment he was cleared.

In the NSW District Court last year, Tristan Sailor found his purpose.

It appeared as he fought for his freedom, blossoming NRL career and academic dreams that threatened to be stripped from him.

Sailor was facing court after being charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault following an alleged incident with a woman in October, 2020. He faced up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

After making his NRL debut for the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2019, Sailor was immediately stood down upon the charges being laid and unable to play rugby league.

With his famous father, dual-code superstar Wendell Sailor, and mother Tara by his side, Sailor made the 90-minute commute from Wollongong to court in Sydney every day.

A predicted one-week trial last March turned into a month-long affair as Sailor’s future rested in the hands of a 10-person jury.

After weeks of graphic evidence and testimonies, it took the jury just two hours of deliberating to acquit Sailor of both charges.

Those two words – not guilty – brought an end to the uncertainty and turmoil that had surrounded Sailor for 18 months.

But what he found during the most traumatic time of his life set his path for the future.

“I’d always had an interest in doing law,” Sailor said in his first interview since being acquitted.

“Then going through it … I saw how the process works and it piqued my interest. I was really invested in studying it, but after the verdict I had to think about whether I wanted to continue or do something else.

“It’s something that’s stayed with me from that. It’s something I could see myself doing afterwards. I like the way you can help people and advocate for them.

“I saw my barrister, the high-value morals and ethics he had, and how intelligent he was. I could see myself doing that.”


Sailor moved to Brisbane after his court case for a fresh start.

Having completed a commerce degree in 2020, Sailor acquired a bachelor of arts (English literature and creative writing) while he was stood down from rugby league.

He has enrolled in a Juris Doctor of Law at Griffith University – a postgraduate degree which will pave the way for him to practise law.

He starts next month and plans to study full-time as he chases an NRL return with the Brisbane Broncos – the club his father scored 110 tries for in 189 games.

Sailor, 24, will pull on a Broncos jersey for the first time when he starts at fullback in Saturday’s pre-season trial match against Wynnum-Manly on Brisbane’s bayside.

It will be a seminal moment for someone who grew up within the inner sanctum at Red Hill among the greatest Broncos players in the club’s rich 35-year history.

“I’ve loved the Broncos since I was a kid,” Sailor said.

“Dad won a few grand finals here and there are photos of me as a little kid with him after they won a grand final.

“It’s always been in my blood. I’ve always been very fond of the Broncos. It’s been awesome to come in here.

“The strength record board is up in the gym and dad has still got one of the records. I think it’s the squat record because of his big bum.

“There’s a feeling of belonging here.”


With a passion for studying and a book club membership, Sailor could be regarded as one of rugby league’s more unique characters.

His body is covered in tattoos, including portraits of famous artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and author James Baldwin – both anti-racism advocates.

He wrote a novel – Echoes of the Soul – while not allowed to play the game during his NRL-imposed “No Fault Stand Down” and plans to study multiple degrees.

“I’ve always loved reading,” Sailor said.

“I ended up writing a novel for one of my classes. We had to write 20,000 words but I just kept writing. It was about a young guy that goes overseas and travels the world … a coming-of-age story.

“I was working as a barista in a bookstore cafe and doing construction labouring, which was really good.

“It gave me gratitude for football. It’s physical and taxing for 10 hours a day and showed you how lucky you are.”

Given he was not allowed to play rugby league, Sailor took up jujitsu and Oztag.


He kept busy and leant on family and friends for support as he prepared for a high-profile court case.

The trial was incredibly detailed and taxing but Sailor was eventually acquitted.

“It was pretty crazy because the trial went three weeks longer than we anticipated,” Sailor said.

“We didn’t know how long deliberations could take but we were confident.

“After an hour or so we got told they wanted us in, but we thought it was just a jury question. As we stepped in they said there was a verdict.

“I smiled at Mum and Dad because I knew they were struggling the most. When they said the decision (not guilty) it was a big relief. I was all right, but Dad was bawling the loudest and Mum was obviously very upset too.

“It was just that relief. It didn’t really kick in until a couple of weeks after. You get into that mindset of powering through it.

“I couldn’t even process it at the time. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I clicked into it and thought about what’s next. I could get on with life.”


On the back of the verdict, Sailor received two phone calls that would lead him to Brisbane.

The first was from former Broncos and Maroons star Justin Hodges, assistant coach at Queensland reserve-grade club Souths Logan.

The second was from current Broncos winger Jordan Pereira, a former Dragons teammate who was also playing with Souths Logan.

They wanted Sailor to come north, escape the Sydney fishbowl and relaunch his NRL career in the city where his father became a sporting superstar.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to come back to footy straight away but the opportunity presented itself,” he said.

“I was a bit undecided at first because of the public scrutiny and media attention that comes with it.

“I saw mates of mine going really well in the NRL and debuting. I was super happy for them but it sparked that desire in me to try and get back in there.

“It’d be a massive achievement (to play NRL for the Broncos), not even personally, but for my family and the people that supported me.

“To have dad’s name on the wall, winning grand finals here, the Broncos are such a prestigious club. To pull on the jersey at all is such a big achievement. It’s definitely something I’m aspiring to.”


After playing the back end of last year with Souths Logan in the Hostplus Cup, the Broncos offered Sailor a train-and-trial contract for the 2023 pre-season.

He has impressed coach Kevin Walters and is on the cusp of earning a full-time deal for the NRL premiership.

That would take him another step closer to following in his father’s footsteps and playing NRL for the Broncos, an impressive achievement given he was fighting for his future less than a year ago.

While he has been acquitted by the courts and relaunched his life, Sailor understands perceptions can last. But he’s determined to make the most of what’s in front of him.

“I don’t know how I dealt with it,” he said.

“Coming through footy, you have to be somewhat mentally strong to get through things.

“I felt like I dealt with it pretty well. I think about some of the young guys and how they might handle it. I deal with resilience quite well.

“Then there’s a public perception of you. That’s one of the harder things, it stays with you forever. You’ve got to be strong within yourself and ride the process out.

“I look at it in a way now that I’m here in Brisbane, have a new opportunity and have met so many nice friends. I’ve got two uni degrees under my belt and am doing a post-grad law degree.

“It was tough at times, but generally over the time I got to enjoy and experience a lot more things as well as regain my appreciation for the game as well.

“I believe everything happens for a reason. I look at where I am now and I’m happy.”

Originally published as Brisbane Broncos hopeful Tristan Sailor wants to study law as he relaunches his NRL career

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