For all their hype about the family nature of their game, the NRL has an atrocious record of players falling off the rails, with last year’s Dally M Player of the Year, Ben Barba, the latest name on an ever expanding list.
More than any other sport that springs to mind the marquee names in the NRL are constantly embroiled in controversy. From Brett Stewart’s alleged indiscretions with an under-age girl to Todd Carney’s inability to remain seated on the wagon, the current crop of stars is loyally following in the footsteps of the high-living stars who proceeded them.
While the problems these players face are varied, ranging from drugs to alcohol, gambling to personal, the fact of the matter is they obviously aren’t getting the support they need to deal with being young, highly-paid, highly visible athletes.
A classic example of the NRL’s failure to help player’s adapt to their new-found fame was Andrew Walker, an incredibly gifted indigenous player who ended up representing Australia in both League and Union. But Walker was notorious for going ‘walkabout’ – vanishing without notice to head back to his family in rural Australia, away from the bright lights and media attention that follows these young guys everywhere they go.
Even one of the game’s greatest ever players, Andrew Johns, courted controversy. Although he had retired when caught by police in London with drugs in his possession, he later admitted to having battled with substance abuse throughout his career, often turning up to pre-season camps following weeks of binging.
The Bulldogs alone have had their fair share of issues, with Barba just the latest. Solomon Haumono famously disappeard mid-season, jetting off to the UK on the heels of Gabriel Richens, the woman dubbed the ‘Pleasure Machine’. (Good friend Anthony Mundine followed the emotionally unstable Haumono, and eventually helped him start a career in boxing).
Even more prominent was the departure of Sonny Bill Williams in the middle of his 2008 season with the Bulldogs, leaving without explanation and heading for France. (Good friend Anthony Mundine followed the emotionally unstable Williams, and eventually helped him start a career in boxing).
Despite the problems being varied and the player’s individual backgrounds and circumstances diverse, the common denominator is the NRL, and it’s inability to help these emerging stars live life in the limelight. Without any real admission of the part the sport’s governing body has played (or failed to play) in all this, it’s a certainty that more young players will soon follow suit.