Malcolm Boyle: Barba black sheep on and off the field

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Ben Barba.  Photo / Getty Images
Ben Barba. Photo / Getty Images

Call me cynical, but I reckon if there's ever a bloke who's given a good tattoo a bad name, it's the Canterbury Bulldogs' wunderkid Ben "Bennie" Barba - stood down indefinitely from the club's playing roster this week.

The superbly gifted young fullback's rap sheet includes binge drinking and too much time shaking hands with the one-arm bandits. So susceptible was he to Lady Luck's charms that he was spotted playing the pokies just two hours before he was due to take the field for a game of NRL football. Barba also later allegedly told a team official that he wasn't interested in playing and wanted to leave the field at halftime.

This type of giving up, or as gnarled old Aussie sportsmen and women refer to it as "turning it up", is tantamount to treason across the Tasman. Perhaps the most telling illustration of it occurred during a cricket tour of India under Alan Border.

The tourists were really under the pump in a searingly hot dustbowl, most wracked with dysentery.

In the midst of all this carnage stood Border at one end and the Victorian, Dean Jones, at the other. Jones had compiled a double century and was all but spent when he walked up to tell his captain he didn't think he could go on. Border's response was - "okay, you go off and we'll get a REAL Aussie out here".

In all the media static surrounding Barba's lay-off, I've yet to hear the obligatory contrition. Having just been named as the NRL's face of rugby league, Barba was staring at the prospect of as much money as he could imagine from his stellar rise to stardom. It's astonishing to contemplate why he would want to throw his wealth into those mechanical monsters.

His club officials have been quick to move in behind Barba to explain that he has a sickness. One gets the feeling that Barba is at the far extremity of the addiction scale. If not, why would you have the initials of your binge drinking club tattooed large across your torso?

- Herald on Sunday

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