WIZ: Superstars in the wars an amazing entree to NRL season
Benji Marshall in action. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay
Wow, what a hectic week for rugby league, with two of the game’s superstars in the news for extraordinary reasons.
I refer to Ben Barba and Benji Marshall and to be honest, I’d prefer to be singing their praises rather than making a comment on what has transpired.
The Barba stuff is tragic. No-one wants to see a young man with the world at his feet go off the rails in both his personal and professional sporting life.
But his story, at least major parts of it, is well and truly in the public domain and it’s great to see such responsible and immediate action from Bulldogs boss Todd Greenberg, the Canterbury Board and coach Des Hasler.
I thought the Bulldogs’ actions were a great tick for the club which puts its athletes’ needs above the primary aim of success on the footy field.
They suspended the star fullback and announced publicly that he was ill and needed specialist outside help to tackle and hopefully beat his problems.
Canterbury – and I am positive that all NRL clubs would react in pretty much the same way – are trying to show wayward footballers who go off the road that there is an avenue for them to get themselves right and hopefully get back to the game that is their profession.
I feel for these young players whose star can rise virtually overnight.
They become media and public darlings and temptations seem to come from all angles. Some players fall to those temptations, others are able to walk away.
I don’t know young Barba and I cannot hazard a guess as to if or when we will see him back playing football for the Bulldogs.
But when your club stands you down for two months at the very start of the season, you just know things are grim. This guy has some major demons to conquer and I wish him every success in his endeavours.
Benji Marshall, as everyone probably knows by now, was stood down as the New Zealand captain by coach Steve Kearney.
As far as I know he didn’t do anything wrong, but to me this is a serious course of action taken by a coach at the top of a World Cup year.
We are told that another Kiwi captain will be appointed as early as today. Simon Mannering is the logical tip and I am sure that he will do a fine job.
According to Kearney, Marshall was relieved of the captaincy burden so he could concentrate fully on his own game and not worry so much about all of the pressures that go with the captaincy, particularly the media duties.
I was a proud Kiwi captain myself on 19 occasions and if you asked me if the media stuff had a bearing on me I’d have to say ‘absolutely.’
You have to ‘perform’ well for the media as well as a footballer on the park. It can weigh you down.
Marshall didn’t see it coming and has talked publicly about his disappointment at losing the honour.
I may be wrong but deep down, I have a suspicion that some of the senior players in the Kiwi line-up were somehow behind the move to dump Benji as skipper.
We may never know; coach Kearney will always insist it was solely his idea.
I cannot predict if it will have a good or bad effect on Marshall’s game; time will tell in the months ahead. I reckon ‘Benji Marshall Watch’ will be one of the most interesting aspects of the 2013 season.
On a completely different subject, I don’t mind the new NRL commercial featuring Australian star Jessica Mauboy on vocals.
But it’s another howler from League HQ that saw the Newcastle Knights left out completely.
The person or persons responsible should be held accountable.
It’s a 16-team comp fellas. Promote all clubs or risk alienation from one at the very grassroots.
Gary 'Wiz' Freeman is one of the great halfbacks in New Zealand rugby league history. Now an outspoken and popular media personality, he joined The Roar in 2012 as an expert rugby league columnist, and continues in 2013.
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