Gareth Ellis – Rugby league must come first as repeat offender Ben Barba pays price

Reigning Super League Man of Steel Ben Barba has been deregistered by the NRL. Picture: Nigel French/PA.
Reigning Super League Man of Steel Ben Barba has been deregistered by the NRL. Picture: Nigel French/PA.
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I played against Ben Barba when I was in the NRL and he was coming through at Canterbury Bulldogs.

He was absolutely outstanding. Unstoppable, in fact. In 2012, everything he touched turned to gold.

BARRED: St Helens' Ben Barba in action last year against Castleford Tigers. Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.

BARRED: St Helens' Ben Barba in action last year against Castleford Tigers. Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.

Barba was plucking the ball out of the air behind his own line, going the length of the field and scoring tries for fun.

He won the Dally M Medal as the NRL’s best player, could do no wrong and was obviously a really talented player. But, as with most geniuses, there was always a bit of a flaw hanging around, too.

That’s obviously come to pass now with North Queensland Cowboys sacking the full-back after an alleged physical altercation with his partner at the Townsville Casino.

He had not even yet played a game for the club. The NRL has since de-registered him and the competition’s chief executive Todd Greenberg says Barba will never be welcome back.

The sport, as a whole, is the most important aspect here and the NRL certainly could not let this carry on. You hope that the one thing that comes out of it all – especially with the NRL’s punishment of Barba – is that players will think twice before acting now.

Gareth Ellis

It’s been an off-season of turmoil for the NRL with so many scandals already having blown up. I’m not sure why – the game has always been in the public eye in Australia and it’s only like football here yet we’ve never had this much in the papers in such a short space of time.

There’s been so many negative headlines, from the Canterbury Bulldogs’ Mad Monday antics to the Jarryd Hayne story and now, with Barba, too. They have a real problem and it is quite worrying.

Not so much for the players; I’ve always said they can do what they like but have to accept the consequences. I am more concerned for the sport’s image as that is getting tarnished.

It’s like when you’re a kid and you get told off by your mum and you end up saying ‘It wasn’t me.’

But she’ll then say ‘Well, just don’t hang around with those who are causing trouble.’

I can see a bit of that in what the NRL has done; they don’t want to be associated with people like Ben Barba any more.

When you think about parents seeing those sorts of headlines, you can see how they would think would they really want their son or daughter growing up and doing some of the idiot things we’ve seen recently?

I saw the Greenberg interview in which he said Barba would not be allowed back in rugby league in Australia again. The RFL have said they would adhere to any ban, too, and Australia’s rugby union have done likewise.

Greenberg is trying to protect the image of the NRL.

I realise, particularly now I’ve finished playing, just what a privileged position it is to be a professional sportsman.

It was always a dream for me to be a professional rugby league player and, so, to do that was a dream come true.

But with that comes a certain amount of responsibility; you have to behave in a certain way and, if you don’t, you don’t deserve that privilege.

It’s not the first time Barba has been in trouble. In fact, it’s not the second or third.

He’s had two positive drugs tests, off-field drunken incidents, now this, and you have to ask how long can the sport keep giving him a second, third, fourth chance?

I understand how he needs help but he has been helped before. When does it stop that he keeps getting further help from the sport?

I thought he had turned things around. With the way he played over here with St Helens, particularly last season when he won the Steve Prescott Man of Steel as Super League’s best player, but also the way he was off the field, I did think he had learned his lesson. You would think that players would eventually get the message, especially someone like Barba who has had past indiscretions.

If they don’t, then they have to realise professional rugby league is probably not for them.

Unfortunately, he’s fallen down the trap again with these allegations and you can see why the Cowboys got rid of him.

It must have been a big decision for them, mind, given it’s so late in the day before their season starts and how much they were looking to build around Barba with Johnathan Thurston retired. There’s bad floods up there as well at the moment and that’s affecting their training so they have real problems.

Certainly, for Barba, when it rains it pours.

Some people will argue how can the sport ban him for life?

If a plumber was involved in such an incident, could anyone stop him being a plumber again?

I understand that view but, at the same time, would you really employ that plumber and trust him to do the job? I believe everyone deserves a second chance and people can change.

But Barba’s had his last chance.

The sport, as a whole, is the most important aspect here and the NRL certainly could not let this carry on.

You hope that the one thing that comes out of it all – especially with the NRL’s punishment of Barba – is that players will think twice before acting now. Is it really worth losing it all – this fantastic job, privileged position and wonderful opportunities – just for one drunken night out?

The press are all over rugby league, especially in Sydney.

I remember when I played for Wests Tigers they would fly helicopters overhead while we trained to get live pictures to try see what tactics we were using.

It is so different to over here and that is the reality of it all.

As a player, you can’t control the media and dictate what they write or broadcast.

But you can keep yourself out of those situations that would bring the spotlight.

Some – like Barba – don’t seem able to. I do feel a bit sorry for him and his family now as things will be tough but it’s not like he hasn’t seen the warning signs.

Hopefully, anyone in a similar position will now heed them.