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Rapid spiral from stardom to the depths of despair

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Is Ben Barba ready to admit he needs help?

The NRL’s 2012 player of the year Ben Barba has been stood down for behavioural issues. Rugby League writer Brad Walters explains why.

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Ben Barba's "multitude of problems" came to a dramatic head when he told a Bulldogs trainer on Saturday night during the trial against Canberra in Goulburn that he did not want to play.

The Bulldogs were well aware of issues with Barba – gambling, alcohol, spending as well as the ongoing effects of a relationship breakdown – but his surprising admission made it clear that league was the furthest thing from the fullback's mind.

His stardom shot within 12 months last year. He has had great difficulty dealing with that issue. 

On the team bus back from Goulburn, Barba spoke at length with coach Des Hasler and other members of the Bulldogs coaching staff. Then on Sunday, he phoned chief executive Todd Greenberg, and the pair agreed to meet later that day.

Long road ahead ... Ben Barba.

Long road ahead ... Ben Barba. Photo: Getty Images

They did so, along with Hasler and the player's manager Gavin Orr. It was clear to all in the room that – as his loss of desire against the Raiders proved – he shouldn't be on the field.

So he wouldn't be. Barba broke down during the meeting, at which it was agreed that last year's Dally M player of the year would be stood down indefinitely. Perhaps Barba will be sidelined for a matter of weeks, but more likely months – and possibly for the rest of the season.

Greenberg has left the decision in the hands of the professional counsellors, who have been hired to work with the 23-year-old.

"I think Ben is at a point where football is the last thing on his mind." ... Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg.

"I think Ben is at a point where football is the last thing on his mind." ... Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg. Photo: Simon Alexna

There was not one major catalyst but a "multitude" of them. Central to them, though, was the breakdown in the relationship between Barba and his partner, Ainslie Currie, the childhood sweetheart he met in Mackay while still at school.

The pair have two daughters, Bodhi and Bronte. They separated before Christmas, while images surfaced on social media of Barba with a new girlfriend, Lauren Tweddle, increasing the "fishbowl" pressure on him.

"I think Ben is at a point where football is the last thing on his mind," Greenberg said. "If anything, I think he felt a sense of relief that there was a plan in place for him to get his life back on track."

While the Bulldogs have dealt with behavioural problems before – Barba was stood down in 2009 after a scuffle with then teammate Jamal Idris – his troubles escalated again last week, when he lashed out at teammate Tim Browne during a physical scrimmage. Barba took exception to a challenge by Browne, and the altercation became physical.

Still, Barba played on Saturday night in Goulburn in the trial – 55 minutes against Canberra – during which it became clear that his mind was not on the game.

After the team returned to Sydney, he joined a night out with another Mackay product, Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, to celebrate the birth of his child.

Then on Sunday morning, Barba called his boss, and less than a fortnight before the Bulldogs' opening match of the season against North Queensland, it was agreed he would not play in it.

A day later, Greenberg addressed the Bulldogs playing group then, after two statements were released – one quoting Greenberg and the other Barba – the club boss fronted the media.

"For the past 24 to 48 hours for me, it became significant enough for me to take the action we have taken," Greenberg said, adding the step was "not so much an incident but the manifestation of a lot of issues that have been in his life over a period of time".

"This is not one issue," Greenberg said. "This is a range of different issues that stem from a breakdown in a family and personal relationship."

Barba will remain in Sydney for now but may opt to spend time in Mackay with family. His older brother Aaron had a promising career at Penrith cut short because he could not adjust to life in Sydney. Officials across the game hope the same does not occur with his younger sibling.

Barba is a brilliant talent but also occasionally a brittle individual. He once walked off the field during an under-20s encounter. For so long, it appeared his defensive inadequacies were behind the reluctance of the NRL coaching staff to promote him, despite eye-catching performances in the National Youth Competition. It is clear personal frailties were at play as well.

"The difficulty for Ben is he is confronting them [his issues] in the public eye," Greenberg said. "His stardom shot within 12 months last year. He has had great difficulty dealing with that issue.

"He is a role model in the game of rugby league but he may not be equipped with all those skills and tools to be the role model we need him to be."

Many waxed that Barba looked like he wore a cape last year, with try after freakish try, but the player himself might have believed he was closer to wearing a mask.

"I'm incredibly sad to be stepping aside as I've been so blessed with what's happened to me over the past few years, but I feel as though I would be wearing a mask if I didn't confront the matters I've been dealing with until now," Barba said in the club's statement.

"I feel it is best to deal with these problems front on, and I believe that by doing so this will make me a better person and player in the future."

96 comments

  • I think this trend must indicate a problem. Clearly they heap a great deal of pressure on very young guys and pay them a lot of money without the guidance and support they need with this.

    Poor show of responsibility by the relative clubs and the NRL building these kids up and then knocking them down even more quickly

    Commenter
    NRL - No Real Liability
    Date and time
    February 26, 2013, 4:26AM
    • Gee, NRL - No Real Liability , i 'm not sure you're right. Where does "duty of care " meet "personal responsibility?" The guy thought himself mature enough to father 2 children and take the very good money he got for playing footy. Now he's confused 'coz his girl has gone., even though he got another one soon enough . Seems most of us have had a relationship break up by the time we get to 23. If it happened to anyone else they wouldn't be getting time off work to recover . I assume he's still being paid , too , poor little lamb.

      Commenter
      daniel
      Location
      rural NSW
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 6:15AM
    • Did you actually read the article NRL? The club are standing by him and offering support. And in any case this is about a relationship breakup - goes a bit beyond the duty of an employer to make sure your relationship stays intact!

      Commenter
      NooNoo
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 6:26AM
    • I agree with daniel, so he's had a bust up with his women and found another straight away,sure he has kids and it would be hard on them,but he must have been not to bad to go out and get another girl so soon after. There seems to be more to this than what the bulldogs are telling us, why would you suspend him for a start instead of giving him time off? I think its more to do with gambling than anything else and that wont be a good look for the nrl with all the betting sponsorship in the game etc...If its about his women well get over it, but if its about gambling well he will need help because theres no escape from the bombardment of betting opportunities.

      Commenter
      buzz
      Location
      goldcoast
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 7:04AM
    • Just goes to show how cocooned these sports people are these days, look at the swimmers only the other week. Doesnt anyone have common sense these days or manners, courtesy, respect, decency.

      Commenter
      Brian
      Location
      Wollongong
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 8:31AM
    • Actually the club's handling of this is far better than has occurred in the past with similar incidents (which usually amounted to 'keep head in sand until everything explodes and deal with it after the NRL reads it in the papers').

      And no magic club policy is going to stop young men having personal crises that affect their willingness to play.

      Commenter
      Simon
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 8:43AM
    • Football players through out Europe are just as young, and earn 40-50 times more. Yet, you don;t have such a problem with drugs and alcohol as we seem to in the NRL and AFL.

      Maybe is because from a very young age, our children are subjected to a culture of gambling and alcohol abuse, where they are portrayed as the "Strayen way". If you do't get involved then you are branded as being "un-Strayen".....

      Commenter
      TommyP
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 9:56AM
    • Why do people feel the need to kick him when he is down? Cut the guy some slack. I applaud him for recognising he has a problem and taking the time to address it. Brian, I don't follow league so I didnt know who Barba was beforehand, but I met him recently and you will be pleased to know he was a quiet, courteous, respectful and decent individual. I wish him and his family all the best.

      Commenter
      Gem
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 10:02AM
    • I think people are missing my point here. I'm not suggesting BB's club are doing the wrong thing in reaction to what's happened, I'm suggesting that the fact it's happened indicates a worrying trend. Barber, Carney, B Stuart and Marshall were all pushed forward as faces of NRL and found themselves in trouble shortly afterwards. Statistics don't lie. Most professional sports pro-actively offer support to players who have had their profile jump in a short period of time both in terms of how to manage the finances and fame.. This clearly doesn't seem to happen in the NRL. I don't see how anyone can deny that..

      Commenter
      NRL - No Real Liability
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 10:38AM
    • I agree that the club has come down tough on Ben. But spare a thought for the options. Either the club could come down hard and Ben could get some sympathy in the press and with the general public or the club could go soft, say Ben has taken some time off to sort out some issues and he would then be crucified by the press who would relentlessly pursue Ben and the club to find out what happened, what the issues were and was the punishment tough enough.

      I feel for all young people in sport these days, being watched and reported 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. All the pressure that is placed on these people and the temptations that put before them must be very, very difficult. Ben needs some time and space to sort his life out and hopeful he can come back to the sport.

      Commenter
      Joe
      Date and time
      February 26, 2013, 12:52PM

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