Sandor Earl is The Gladiators star with nine lives

Comeback kid.
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Gladiators, ready! The iconic words from the original 1990s series are about to start trending again when Gladiators returns to our screens for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Hosted by former NRL star (and The Amazing Race Australia host) Beau Ryan and netball legend Liz Ellis, a new batch of contenders will enter the arena to battle it out against 14 colourful athletes.

Gladiators begins January 15.

(Image: Supplied)

Returning to the show is one of the original 1990s Gladiators, Mark McGaw, who was Hammer. Now 59, the former rugby league star will act as referee in the challenges, some of which include past favourites such as Hang Tough, Duel, Pyramid and Eliminator.

One of the Gladiators hoping to make a mark is another former NRL player, Sandor Earl, who – like his namesake Phoenix – has risen from the ashes to redefine his life after being banned from rugby league in 2013.

“Bringing Phoenix to life couldn’t have been more fitting,” Sandor tells TV WEEK.

“Like many of us on the rollercoaster that is life, I’ve been through the highs and lows. Through the adversities and failures, I’ve seen the biggest growth and had the greatest lessons.”

“Bringing Phoenix to life couldn’t have been more fitting.”

(Image: Supplied)

Now 33, the New Zealand-born winger was playing for the Canberra Raiders in 2013 when the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority ruled that he’d used and trafficked performance-enhancing drugs. He confessed that while playing for the Penrith Panthers in 2011, he’d illegally used peptides to treat a shoulder injury.

The four-year ban he was handed could well have spelled the end of his NRL career, but in 2018 Sandor returned to play for the Melbourne Storm, until an injury took him away from the game for good. He retired in 2020.

“It hasn’t always been a fairy tale story,” he says. “My experiences in great teams, cultures, the highlights, the wins and overcoming major injuries have set me up for the rest of my life.”

Sandor was given another shot at redemption when he was scouted for this year’s revival of Gladiators.

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“I was a huge fan [of Gladiators],” he reveals. “It was bucket-list stuff [to compete]. The new-era crew of Gladiators are legendary. I’m pumped to see it come to life – I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I did.”

When Sandor left the NRL, he began a new career as co-founder of Altitude Training Fitness, a training program that “focuses on strength, conditioning, speed and power with the additional mental challenge of a unique reduced-oxygen environment”.

“Between this, a few extra [bicep] curls and crunches, I was ready to go [for Gladiators],” he jokes of getting into shape for the show.

Sandor played for the Canberra Raiders in 2013.

(Image: Supplied)

Sandor says Phoenix was an easy alter-ego to choose, as for him it represents “resilience, a willingness to embrace challenges and a mindset built on the personal belief that [one] can overcome anything”.

Viewers will notice the muscled star has plenty of tattoos, some of which are light-hearted, but others more meaningful.

“One that stands out reads, ‘I am not what I have done, I am what I have overcome’,” he says. “And I’m proud of the things I’ve overcome and the person I am.”

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