Farrell’s Forum: Barba’s problems highlight a serious issue

Canterbury Bulldogs star Ben Barba
Canterbury Bulldogs star Ben Barba
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There have been a couple of eye catching stories from the world of rugby league this week, notably new Salford owner Dr Marwan Koukash claims that he has made a bid to sign Wigan Warriors’ star full-back Sam Tomkins and the news that Stuart Cummings has confirmed that he is to leave his role as the Rugby Football League’s referees’ chief next month.

However, I’d like to begin by discussing the current plight of Canterbury Bulldogs star Ben Barba, the man who won the prestigious Dally M medal – awarded to the player voted as the best throughout the entire duration of the NRL season – in Australia last year for a string of outstanding performances from the full-back position and a series of astonishing tries.

Barba is lauded, and rightly so, as one of the best individual talents in the game for his uncanny ability to beat defenders with pace and agility, and his almost superhuman ability to score seemingly impossible tries while making it all look so natural in the process.

However, a number of personal issues during the off-season including the break-up of his relationship to his childhood sweetheart and mother of their two children, and his seeming inability to cope with superstardom have seen his behaviour deteriorate, leading to excessive alcohol use and problem gambling.

Barba, the man who was due to officially launch the NRL season this week, such is his profile in Australia, has now been indefinitely suspended by the Bulldogs and he is currently seeking medical assistance at a private rehab clinic.

Canterbury have stated that Barba will not resume his playing duties until all of his off-field issues have been resolved, with their CEO Todd Greenberg suggesting “It could be six weeks, it could be six months.”

Barber is a player of incredible talent as the many showreels of his ability and try-scoring prowess on Youtube will attest.

However, his current situation highlights the plight that many rugby league players face, and by rugby league players I’m not solely talking about the professionals, it’s merely those star players who make the headlines.

Figures from the Mental Health Foundation suggest that one in four people will suffer from some kind of mental health issues during the course of the year.

A number of those people must be people within the game of rugby league. Understandably, for men playing what is considered to be one of the toughest sports in the world admitting to having mental health issues is no easy thing.

However, if you have concerns about a loved one’s mental health or you are someone with mental health issues who is involved with rugby league at any level there are organisations which you can contact.

The State of Mind programme was established in 2011 with the aim of improving the mental health, wellbeing and working life of rugby league players and communities. Their website aims to provide support and suggestions to help you keep in good mental health. It also supplies information on services in your local area and is accessible at www.stateofmindrugby.com.

And so to the news of new Salford owner Dr Marwan Koukash’s claims that he has made a bid to sign Wigan Warriors’ star full-back Sam Tomkins.

Koukash told the Manchester Evening News: “I have contacted Wigan to tell them I am interested in signing Sam and would be prepared to pay a transfer fee for him.

“That’s all I can say at this stage. We’ll see what happens.”

This may indeed be so but I suspect it’s more a statement of intent as oppose to a genuine approach form Tomkins’ services.

After saving Salford from bankruptcy last month the millionaire businessman and racehorse owner seems determined to build the City Reds into genuine title contender, however, taking an ailing team to the top of Super League and ultimately the Grand Final is no easy feat, particularly with the restrictions of the salary cap limiting the club’s ability to mark marquee signings – Tomkins, Rangi Chase of Castleford and Adrian Morley of Warrington have all been muted as potential signings for the City Reds.

And lastly, Stuart Cummings has confirmed that he is to leave his role as the Rugby Football League’s referees’ chief next month.

Cummings retired from refereeing in 2000 to become the RFL’s director of match.

He is due to relinquish his post on March 20, although he will continue as a consultant and will also recommend appointments for the end-of-season World Cup.

Cummings said: “My role as RFL match officials’ director has been both challenging and rewarding.

“However, after 24 years at the top level of refereeing, I now feel the time is right to move on to other projects and opportunities, while maintaining contact with rugby league.”