His current hand injury notwithstanding, hasn’t it been great to see Kurtley Beale running around this year with a smile on his face?
Sure, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Kurtley and his Melbourne Rebels comrades this season in Super Rugby.
Beale’s dodgy shoulder will remain a bit of an issue even after repairs on his hand, but compared to this time last year – when his body shape was closer to that of a forward than a spring-heeled back – Kurtley is absolutely flying!
While he’s always been a talent, and a highly coveted one at that, Kurtley has learnt since he reached the representative level that talent will only get you so far.
The rest is down to hard work and a good support network, as no one can succeed on their own in what is a team game. A little bit of luck along the way also helps.
It was unfortunate, but probably inevitable, that ‘KB’ was built up to be the next big thing when he emerged from stardom out of the schoolboys ranks at St Joseph’s.
The Waratahs were desperately crying out for a new backline starlet – they still probably are – and that desperation did the young Kurtley no favours.
There was some good stuff in his early days, enough to convince many the kid could go on to be something special; but those off field issues (you know the ones!) just haven’t seemed to have gone away.
Touch wood for this year, so far!
Team-mates have come to learn they need to keep an eye on Kurtley off the field. To help him out, and stick close by him in social circles, especially after games.
It’s not a chore: he’s good company, so he’s a guy you want to spend time with.
It’s more just a case of keeping a collective eye on his well-being to ensure he either isn’t leading, or just as importantly, being led astray – which is something that happens to sportsmen and women far more often than the public ever finds out about.
Kurtley also needs to be encouraged.
‘KB’ responds best when backed to have a go, and play it the way he wants to, as opposed to being reined in by pre-determined tactics and game plans.
This is probably why Kurtley has really come on as a player since he was moved to fullback a couple of years back.
Playing at the back gave him a license to have a go. It has also clearly helped with his vision, in terms of how to run a game.
Having such a close up view of how the game unfolds, while being able to choose his moments to get involved, has ‘tidied up’ the organisational side of Kurtley’s game.
He’s now a real leader, both on the field, but also in pre-game discussions the media and public don’t get to see; both sussing out how we want to play, but also in terms of isolating the areas of opportunity we might have as far as exposing the other side.
You only have to look at how he controlled so totally the Wallabies’ win at Twickenham last year, playing field position superbly to shut the Poms out, to see how far he’s come.
And in such a short time.
Think back to the mid-year Bledisloe Test at Homebush, where he had a shocker.
As can sometimes be the case with Kurtley, there was a fair bit going on in his life off the field at the stage.
Being let down by a couple of key people in his life around then didn’t help either.
It was noticeable in the back half of the year that when he got away from them, Kurtley was an almost different player, and person.
He mixed more within the team, appeared to be more relaxed almost all of the time, and won over even the harshest sceptics (and there were a few).
In many ways, he symbolised the Wallaby season as a whole: a flat patch against the All Blacks, followed by a steady improvement and a good finish, with just two losses from the last nine played.
Be it team-mate, or foe, Kurtley is widely respected in the Australian game, both for his skills, but also as a bloke.
He is genuine, enthusiastic and one of the best athletes in the game when he looks after himself – which he seems to be getting better at.
That’s why it has been so good to see him running around, confidently strutting his stuff – and with a big smile on his dial – this year.
Long may it continue.
Australian (and world rugby for that matter) can only be the better for it.