Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Henry: no more time for surgeons

Former Rookie of the Year Ben Henry is raring to go. Photo / Photosport
Former Rookie of the Year Ben Henry is raring to go. Photo / Photosport

Ben Henry has a simple goal this season: "Get through the year injury-free and, hopefully, at the end of it, not have any surgeries - that would be nice."

The Warriors utility has endured a wretched time recently, playing only 21 NRL games in the past three seasons.

In 2013, the year after being named the NZRL's Rookie of the Year, he ruptured his ACL in training early in the season. In 2014, he made his Kiwis debut (at hooker, of all places) and played 16 NRL games for the Warriors. Last year, though, he suffered another torn ACL and sat out most of the season.

He was in danger of being seen as damaged goods but the club still rated him highly, even seeing him as a future captain, and offered him a new contract until the end of 2016. It was one bright spot point in a challenging time.

"It wasn't the best," says Henry. "I've had some pretty bad days and that was probably one of the worst. The amount of work you put in ... you love playing it, love passing the ball around in the weekends.

To have that taken away is sad.

"I got busy off the field and that has helped me keep my head in the right space."

While many professional sportspeople (predominantly men) undertake a Bachelor of PlayStation, spending countless hours playing video games, Henry hit the books and last year completed his third qualification in three years.

He was also a Warriors education ambassador and one of 14 NRL State of Mind ambassadors.

Henry is only 24 but an old 24, given the many setbacks in his short professional career. Not everyone listens to what he says regarding education but he's hopeful it registers with a handful.

"The most common question is: 'How much do you bench?' I always get asked that. It's helpful to their education," he says with a laugh.

"Most kids aren't interested in learning - they just want to hear what the glamour of the footy life is - but some kids have their heads on right. Hopefully the encouragement I give them in terms of education falls on a few ears.

"I think what I've been through gives my words credibility. I remember when I was in the under-20s and I listened to the statistics of players lasting in the NRL for three years, I scoffed at that. I hadn't had any major injuries at that stage. Then, after my first year in the NRL, an ACL happened. Then another one. That made me think a lot."

For some, the pressures of professional league get too much and a handful of young players have taken their lives in recent years. Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei is putting his name to a new charity foundation focused on combating youth suicide, depression and alcohol and drug abuse after recently admitting he has battled his own mental demons in the past.

"It's about getting out in the communities," says Henry. "There are a lot of kids committing suicide, kids at 18 or 19 who are breaking into the NRL, making big money but under family pressure, public pressure, media pressure to perform."

"It's about getting them to speak out, speak to loved ones and people they trust so they are not bottling up all these emotions, which is when bad things can happen.

"It has been a real eye opener. I'm no psychologist, I just give them information, let them vent and encourage them to talk to people they trust - friends, family, their mums and dads.

"Those are the people I talk to."

Henry hopes he does some other listening this year - listening to team talks, rev-ups and players alongside him on the field.

He's taking full part in training and coach Andrew McFadden said he should be available for the Warriors' first game against the Wests Tigers on March 5.

McFadden has witnessed what Henry has been through but also what he has offered off the pitch.

"[The off-field work] is more driven by him," McFadden says. "Every player is different and has different motivation levels. Sometimes when you are young, you lose a little perspective of how lucky you are but when you lose something, you get a really good insight.

"Ben certainly has that with the run of injuries he's had. He certainly doesn't take his position for granted. He's a very impressive person. He's had to grow up and learn some hard lessons, some brutal lessons, but he's taken them head on and he's in control of his destiny."

- Herald on Sunday

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 08 Dec 2016 17:15:35 Processing Time: 552ms