Barba Now The ‘Complete Footballer’ Says Ennis

Barba, BenBy STEVE MASCORD

THE star of the 2012 season who crashed and burned is now back as a “complete footballer”, according to a man who’s had a front row seat all along

Cronulla fullback Ben Barba was Dally M medallist as Canterbury fullback that year, only for off-field dramas to see him leave the club the following year.

A foray into the halves and a double change of clubs followed for Barba, who seemed to have permanently lost his way in the ruthless world of professional sports.

But in a 62-0 belting of Newcastle on Sunday, no-one was left in any doubt of the triple B headine – Ben Barba is Back.

“Benny’s been super slick since the start of the year,” said his team-mate then and now, Michael Ennis.

“He’s in a great space. Everyone will always look at 2012 in terms of that run that he had. But in terms of being the complete footballer, he’s taken massive leaps this year.

“He was brilliant back then too. That was as good as any fullback I’ve ever played with, what he did in 2012. But what he’s doing with our side both with the ball and more importantly without it, he’s evolved. He’s developed heaps in the last three years

“He’s in a good place and he’s playing some enormous footy for us.”

Ennis says it trying to recapture his attacking brilliance was the easy route for Barba, now 26.

“When you have a year like he did in 2012, everyone spoke about his attack and his line-breaks and his tries and the highlights reels,” the rake said.

World Cup ebay“When he went through those hard periods at the Broncos and the early part of last year with the five-eighth trial, you always try to attack well to get your confidence back.

“It’s what he’s done off the ball … you see his attack start to flow and his confidence start to come again. He’s a good player.”

Despite scoring 11 tries on Sunday, Ennis revealed: “It wasn’t until (Saturday) when we even worked on our attack.

“It’s been all about our defence this week because Flanno (coach Shane Flanagan) thought after a week and a half away from each other it’s an area where we could have taken our foot off the pedal.

“You look at the Broncos and the Cowboys and and their last 18 months that they’ve had and then the Storm have been doing this for quite some time– we’re just behind them.

“We’re just doing our thing and keeping it low key.”

As a veteran of 20 first grade games for the Knights, Ennis felt desperately sorry for his opposition.

“In those games, you sometimes get away from the opposition,” he said.

“I felt a bit sorry for them in the sense that it goes from 16, 18 to 50 really quick sometimes when the momentum’s not with you.

“As painful as it will be, they’ll get some real good experience from it.

“It’s hard to pull back. They’ve got some real good players up here, real good young kids who are going to be players of the future.

“I like what Browny (coach Nathan Brown) is doing up here. I think in the coming years they’re going to be a good side. It’s just hard at the moment.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK
World Cup ebay

2013 Season Review: CANTERBURY BULLDOGS

Canterbury - logoBy STEVE MASCORD

IN a way, these Rugby League Week year-enders can serve as historical records. You can leaf through old dog eared copies of the The Bible and relive what went right – and wrong – for your favourite team.

But in the case of 2012 grand finalists, the Canterbury Bulldogs, the full story probably hasn’t been told yet.

A season which promised so much ended on September 15 with a 22-6 elimination final loss to Newcastle at ANZ Stadium. The fact fullback Ben Barba failed to finish the game due to an ankle injury completed a sorry circle for the Bulldogs.

At the beginning of the season, Barba was suspended by the club for a month over “behavioural issues”. There is a photo of his former partner, Ainslee Currie, with a bleeding lip which remains unexplained.

And no sooner had Barba been stood down than rumours began to circulate over deep divisions in the first grade squad. By the end of the season, the daily press reported he was not even on speaking terms with many of his team-mates and had failed to finish counselling sessions which had been described by the club – at the time of his suspension – as mandatory.

It would take an extremely optimistic Dogs fan to maintain these internecine conflicts had not adversely affected the club’s bid to go one better on last year’s runners-up finish.

But many of these factors remain unexplored, the subject of speculation and supposition. There’s not much we can say about them here and that may remain the case for years, although continuing media enquiries into club CEO Todd Greenberg’s move to NRL headquarters could uncover more about events during the coming summer.

In the meantime, all we have are the results and the public utterances of those within the club on which to judge why 2013 fell so far short of expectations for the men from Belmore.

The 24-12 home loss to North Queensland – in a game shifted to BlueTongue Stadium – in round one was actually not as big an upset as it now looks, given that many pundits had installed Neil Henry’s side as premiership favourites.

Des Hasler’s side then snuck home against Parramatta in Sydney – another performance that looks worse now than it did at the time – before losing a tight one to Melbourne at AAMI Park.

Further defeats to South Sydney and Manly followed before a 38-0 belting by the Sydney Roosters exposed the depth of the club’s predicament.

The break for the representative weekend ushered in some signs of life.

There was a 24-8 win over Cronulla and crushing 40-4 triumph against Wests Tigers, followed by a tough 24-16 success away to the Warriors. Steadily, the Dogs began to rise back up the table.

Heading into round seven, they were last. Before round 10, it was 11th.

Then it all came crashing down again – and it was at the hands of the side that would eventually end their season. Newcastle 44 Canterbury 8 at Hunter Stadium on May 19 was a shock to the Dogs travelling supporters and brought the soul searching back.

Wins against Brisbane and St George Illawarra righted the ship somewhat and, heading into the Origin series, the blue-and-whites were ninth, but on the same number of competition points as the seventh-placed Knights.

The Origin period was initially kind to Canterbury.

A ten-point away win over North Queensland was followed by a two-point overtime nail-biter at Brookvale.

The tricolours edged out Hasler’s men by two, then the Knights continued to exert their hoodoo before the Bulldogs scored a remarkable 39-0 Sunday afternoon success over a severely depleted Melbourne.

Into the home stretch then, with the rep season over, and going into round 20 in sixth position. There are wins over Parramatta and St George Illawarra before a watershed home defeat to a gritty, determined Gold Coast on August 12.

As we know, the Bulldogs hung on to make the finals, dropping a couple more games including their final regular season fixture to Brisbane. But the consistency, which coach Hasler must have been confident would arrive eventually, never really showed up.

Hasler said of the final that put the dogs out of their misery: “That could be any game that we’ve tossed up in the last 10 weeks.

“I’m really disappointed with the ball (retention), I’ve been going on about that for a while.”

He insisted it was too difficult to sum up accurately why his side had not managed to recapture the magic of the previous year. “I think we’ve been pretty inconsistent,” he said.

“We’ve got an off-season to review it. We’ll certainly be doing that.”

Our season reviews are supposed to be about football, not off-field intrigue. But when one has an impact on the other, the dividing line becomes more than a little blurry.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Finals Week Two

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

WAYNES WORLD VIII?

ASKED on Saturday night why his Newcastle side was coming good in the finals, coach Wayne Bennett replied: “It’s spring”. Then quizzed if that was the reason just for him, he replied: “For all of us, that’s the time you want it to happen”. On the eve of the second preliminary semi-final, veteran Danny Buderus said Bennett was “a different coach” during the finals. That was apparent to outsiders after the 18-16 victory, when Bennett acceded to every interview request. On Sunday, he even made a rare appearance on FM radio. The reason Wayne Bennett makes himself scarce for most of the year is so he can cash in his media chips when it matters most, drawing attention and pressure away from the players by cracking jokes and hamming it up in public. The man with an image for dismissing the media actually strategies his interactions with them down to the finest detail.

WALKING WOUNDED CUP

YOU’D be forgiven for forgetting there is plenty of rugby league on after the grand final, by virtue of the World Cup. But will there be any star players still standing? Benji Marshall and Justin Hodges are already gone, Sonny Bill Williams is rated at long odds chose the tournament over boxing and then there are the walking wounded of the the NRL finals series. Greg Inglis, Anthony Watmough and Billy Slater (all knee) all look doubtful for Australia. Jack Reed’s shoulder has already cost him his England spot and if Brent Kite is playing with a broken hand, it’s hard to see Penrith encouraging him to play for Tonga. Sisa Waqa suffered a grade two medial ligament tear on Saturday night and seems set to be a Fiji Bati casualty. There will no doubt be more withdrawals – probably many more.

WHO KNOWS?

WOULD it really be such a bad thing for referees to be given a third option when they send a try decision upstairs, namely “dunno”. The signal could be arms at the side, bent at the elbow, with flat palms pointed at the sky. Maybe a head tilt as well. But seriously, is there not a logic disconnect in saying the on-field official must make a decision in 100 per cent of cases, only using technology to doublecheck his decision, then making it significantly harder for technology to disagree than agree with him? Surely the information of the video referees is being hampered to such an extent that we might as well not have them at all. Not having “dunno” seems a matter of pride rather than practical sense. At least I think that’s the case. I’m not sure.

CLUB CALL

LATE on Sunday night, Tony Smith – brother of Brian – was force to make a decision which he detested. Under the rules of the Super League play-offs, as the highest-ranking winner of week one in the play-offs, Smith’s Warrington got to choose their preliminary final opponents. The Wolves had a choice between Huddersfield, 76-18 winners over Hull, or perennial late-season-peak men Leeds, 11-10 winners over St Helens. Smith detests ‘club call’, as it is known, for old school coaching reasons – it gives the opposition ammunition. That’s how highly coaches rate psychology – they’d rather pass up the chance to choose their own opponents! The question is, who would 2012 Catalan coach Trent Robinson choose this year? I’m banking on the team where he used to be assistant under Tony Smith’s brother – Newcastle.

GROUNDS FOR CONCERN

ONCE upon a time, all finals were played at the Sydney Cricket Ground or Sydney Sports Ground. You knew it was September in Sydney when the wind picked up and you waltzed onto the hill around midday to watch under 23s and reserve grade. But crowds were poor early in the finals, so we shifted matches to home grounds. Then we did that in week two, then week three. And we stopped using suburban grounds completely. But – as we saw at the weekend – attendances are still and issue. What is the logical next step? Tendering out finals to venues who can guarantee big gates and financial security, perhaps? Perth, Auckland, Brisbane, Wellington, Adelaide, Darwin? Seems to be worth a try, given that finals venues are already centrally controlled and the grand final is in Sydney until further notice.

MORE QUESTIONS

SOME questions regarding Saturday’s NRL media release: One of the people interviewed as part of the probe, a reporter, says he was told by the SC’s assistant the alleged incident itself was not being investigated. If this is true, how can one investigate a cover-up without determining if there was something to cover up in the first place? And how can a person who was not investigated be exonerated in the subsequent press release? Given that that the release said there would be “no further comment”, I guess we’ll never know.  You might be wondering why this column is appearing, given its Sun-Herald predecessor. I’ve only stepped away from chasing news, because I can’t see the point under current conditions. I’m still hoping someone wants me to cover games and write columns and features. So far, so good. Fingers crossed.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

THE BIG ISSUE: #58

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

SOME people don’t seem to mind being lied to.

When the photo of a woman’s bloodied lip appeared in News Limited Sunday papers, along with the revelation that the person depicted had complained to the Bulldogs in February she had been hit by Ben Barba, the implications seemed to take a long time to dawn on many.

Let’s spell it out (as things stood when we went to press):

· The highest profile player in the NRL was stood down from the start of the season and we weren’t told why;

· A woman complained she had been assaulted by a Canterbury player and the club told neither the NRL or the police;

· The player was arbitrarily allowed to resume playing with the governing body of the competition in the dark over what had occurred;

· The club CEO who presided over all this now holds a senior position at the National Rugby League.

Let’s look at some of the alleged extenuating circumstances. One, Barba may have been in a fragile mental state at the time and making the allegations public would have exacerbated the situation.

Surely he should not have resumed playing until he could deal with the consequences of the allegations. Instead, he resumed playing when he could deal with something that remained a secret. How does that help him?

Two, the privacy of the alleged victim needed to be protected. Well, she is still denying anything happened now – so how would that have been different in February if the claims had been properly dealt with?

Three, that she did not want to go to police. Well, the law of the land and the regulations of the NRL require that such claims be passed onto the police and League Central, regardless.

Todd Greenberg no doubt believes he did the right thing by Barba at the time and if he has to take a fall for it, he’ll have a clear conscience.

But given that the biggest issue in fighting domestic violence (which we stress we are not accusing anybody of) is that it is horrendously under-reported, how can Canterbury promote the Women In League round with a clear conscience?

Hopefully, between me writing this and you reading it, some new evidence has come to light explaining the actions of the club. If not, action against those involved must be swift and harsh.

And if you don’t think a fan has any right to know that a club is covering up alleged misconduct by players, costing it the services of its best player, then I can’t help you.

We’ll just keep working for those of you who believe you do have that right.

NB: Since this story appeared, the Bulldogs have insisted there was no actual complaint from Ainslie Currie. The club has not detailed how apparent her injuries were when she met with club officials, or if there were any injuries.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Bulldogs CEO Makes Early Return To Sydney

Canterbury - Raelene CastleBy STEVE MASCORD

CANTERBURY chief executive Raelene Castle has cancelled a media conference in Brisbane so she can return to Sydney on Saturday and attend to urgent business in the wake of Ben Barba’s return to rugby league.

Barba, who has been the subject of a week-long media storm since photos emerged of his former partner Ainslie Currie with a bloodied lip, came off the bench in the 35th minute of the Broncos’ 16-11 win at Suncorp Stadium.

The finals-bound Dogs led 11-10 with eight minutes remaining, after Trent Hodkinson’s field goal, before youngster Corey Oates bagged his second try to snatch victory. Electronic media reported Barba had the inscription “AC’ on wrist strapping during the game.

Fairfax Media was advised late Thursday Castle’s media opportunity had been canned because she had to fly to Sydney to attend to an “unfolding situation”.

No other details were available. Canterbury coach Des Hasler said his biggest concern regarding the Dally M holder was his return from an ankle injury.

“He had some nice touches. His foot got jumped on there at the end but he’s OK,” said Hasler.

“It was more being out for five weeks. He was able to get his match fitness.”

The evening was a triumph for Brisbane veteran Scott Prince, who retired at the end of his 300th game. He started the evening with a trysaving tackle and finished it with a sideline conversion.

“With that milestone and the way we played as a team, I was more impressed with that – the way we finished the season,” said Prince, who starts a university course next week.

“Just to play professionally was always a dream; anything else was a bonus.”

Hasler and captain Michael Ennis were confident the loss would not lead to an erosion of confidence going into the finals.

“There’s certainly no lack of confidence n what we can do,” said Hasler. “We know what we can do, we can be a real force in the semi-finals.

“We just have to do a simple thing like hang onto the ball.

“It’s pretty simple – you only complete 18 sets with the ball in two halves, then you can’t expect to win many games.

“The Broncos had enough to win four games. It wasn’t a good performance.

“It’s sudden death from here on in. The players know. They tackled terrific. The only way they (Brisbane) scored tries was through kicks.”

Ennis added: “I don’t think you can afford to drop your bundle when sudden death’s around the corner. You play footy to enjoy this time of year.

“We’ve got a decent turnaround now to get it into shape. We’ve certainly got the staff and the roster there to do that.”

Broncos fullback Josh Hoffman suffered an AC joint injury but is tipped to be fit for the World Cup. Oates was unfortunately not to have a couple more tries.

“He’s scored eight tries now – he’s not a winger but he’s a talent,” said coach Anthony Griffin, who said he meant no offence in referring to critics as singing canaries.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

NRL round 26: BRISBANE 16 CANTERBURY 11 at Suncorp Stadium

By STEVE MASCORD

BEN Barba played, his 2014 selection rival Josh Hoffman was gone by the time he came off the bench, and his new Brisbane team-mates secured a last-ditch victory over finals bound Canterbury.

On the opening night of round 26, former Dally M medallist made his comeback from ankle injury against the team he is joining next year and against a background of saturation coverage of claims the real reasons for him being stood down at the start of the season had been covered up.

With eight minutes to go, it looked as though he would finish the evening a winner, with Canterbury halfback Trent Hodkinson landing a field goal from in front.

But a second try for the night by winger Corey Oates ended a disappointing season – and a week in which former greats have criticised the club for its worst-ever season – on a hight.

Barba entered the contest in the 35th minute; his touted clash with 2014 selection rival Josh Hoffman never eventuated because the fullback was forced off with a shoulder injury 11 minutes earlier.

Barba initiated a spectacular 56th minute try for centre Krisnan Inu, offloading in heavy traffic to Josh Jackson, who in turn found centre Krisnan Inu.

Inu seemed to have been rounded up by the Broncos defence – but Jack Reed and Corey Oates collided and Inu streaked away to score, making it 10-10 with 23 minutes left.

Playing his final game, Brisbane halfback Scott Prince got involved early when he bundled Canterbury winger Mitch Brown over the touchline in the 14th minute when he looked certain to score in the north-western corner.

Three minutes later, there tempers flared when Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds appeared to be third man into a tackle. The challenge was reminiscent of a “prowler’ tackle and Broncos players rushed in before calm was restored by the referees.

There was no report, however – just a penalty to Brisbane. Winger Corey Oates, who had scored six tries in his eight first grade appearances, subsequently went close to scoring.

Then came the departure of Hoffman, after a tackle by Krisnan Inu.

Brisbane continued to hammer the Bulldogs line, with only some heroic defence repelling Jack Reed, who later fumbled over the tryline.

Reynolds skipped into the clear at the 27-minute mark, with the match still scoreless, but his pass to Josh Morris went to ground.

It was only a temporary setback for the no.6. At 28 minutes, threw a dummy and glided past some threadbare defence to score the first try of the match, which Trent Hodkinson coverted from 10 metres in from touch.

The shoulder charge rule was debated again when Oates raced into the clear down the eastern touchline with only Morris to beat. The custodian body-checked him, as cover defenders have been doing in that situation for a century, and was duly penalised for a shoulder charge.

Captain Sam Thaiday tapped the ball deftly onto winger Lachlan Maranta as the Broncos attacked following that penalty, but the Bulldogs’ defence was equal to the task.

However, a quick spread from right to left saw Broncos halfback Ben Hunt bomb the south-eastern corner and Oates finally claimed his seventh try, which went unconverted.

After halftime, there was comedy from Canterbury captain Michael Ennis after referee Gavin Badger warned the Dogs about repeated infringements.

“Thankyou Gavin, I appreciate your feedback,” said the hooker. “Can I just say I appreciate your feedback?”

But after Brisbane hit the front, when England centre Reed claimed Ben Hunt’s grubber kick in the 50th minute, Ennis was not as calm. He remonstrated with Badger about the Broncos’ delaying tactics in the ruck as Prince placed the ball for what was ultimately a successful conversion.

BRISBANE 16 (C Oates 2 J Reed tries S Prince 2 goal) bt CANTERBURY 11 (J Reynolds K Inu tries T Hodkinson goal field goal) at Suncorp Stadium. Referees: G Badger/A Shortall. Crowd: 26,599.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

DISCORD 2013: Edition 36

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

TRADITIONAL media has clearly become so discredited among many people that even on the occasions it does its job, the default reaction from readers is distrust.

The Ben Barba imbroglio is the classic example of what the press ‘roundsman’ is there to do – find out stuff people don’t want him or her to know – and which may have been deliberately concealed.

This is the sort of practice that dates back to when advertising paid for journalism, before the age of journalism pandering to advertising.

The line in the sand for sports reporters was always whether an off-field incident or allegation affected on-field performances. If there was a reason a player was missing or a team was losing, the rationale was that the fans who paid through the gates each weekend had a right to know.

Let’s look at the arguments in favour of this particular affair remaining unreported:

1) The privacy of the alleged victim. Ainslie Currie denied being assaulted back in February and she is still denying it now. What’s changed with regard to her privacy?

2) Mental health of Ben Barba. According to Canterbury sponsor Gary Johnson, Barba was on ‘suicide watch’ at the time of his standing down and of this alleged incident. So, he was on suicide watch and back playing four weeks later and the governing body of the sport was not told? A governing body which has taken a strong stance with others in relation to the very type of allegations which were apparently kept secret from them? That seems, to me, to make those involved more culpable, not less so.

Newspapers and magazines are dying. They are cutting costs, increasingly aiming to entertain instead of inform and in a number of high profile cases, are seeking to exercise what little influence they have left in grotesque political campaigns.

But every now and then, a journalist still gets to do what the code of ethics – rather than the boss or the circulation figures or the ratings – dictate he or she must do.

There are still stories in the paper that aren’t there just to get your attention and point you towards adds and cross promotions for the proprietor’s other businesses.

And it’s worth considering, no matter how little respect you have left for the media: when the papers are dead and the journalists are in the dole queue, who’s going to be there to tell you that you’ve been deceived?

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GIVEN there has been so much happening domestically of late, you have probably missed a couple of significant developments abroad.

One, Norway was stripped of two European Bowl competition points for fielding five ineligible players against the Czech Republic and Ukraine.

Omar Baghdadi, Sean Casey, Timothy Hackney, Tim Rowan and Isaac Schmidt have all been banned indefinitely amid claims which have been upheld for the time being that they were ‘ring-ins’.

It’s important to understand many of the countries at this level have no domestic league to speak of and players roll up for Test matches the same way they would for park football in Sydney!

You would think things would be a tad more professional and reliable in Super League. But you’d be wrong.

The day before they played Huddersfield at the weekend, Wakefield sold their best player – halfback Tim Smith – to Salford so they could use the money to pay everyone else’s wages!

I kid you not. “Tim’s not playing today – we flogged him off to pay our bills”.

The Wildcats were duly beaten, 40-0. Huddersfield are minor premiers for the first time in 80 years.

Huddersfield is where the game was born in 1895. Now, scan the sentences above and tell me how far we have, or haven’t, come since then!

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COMMENTS now and I won’t go over them all in chapter and verse this week because, to be honest, as I write this it’s getting late.