New Zealand Warriors arrive at Tamworth airport, Sunday, May 3, 2020. Warriors players will live and train in Tamworth under quarantine conditions before the NRL competition resumes at the end of May. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)
New Zealand Warriors arrive at Tamworth airport, Sunday, May 3, 2020. Warriors players will live and train in Tamworth under quarantine conditions before the NRL competition resumes at the end of May. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

From the grandstand: Are NRL players victims or villains?

SURPRISE, surprise. NRL players are in trouble again.

As I said in this column a couple of weeks ago, it would do us well to read about such things, as we know then, that things are getting back to normal.

When I read about the latest exploits I, like many others, just shook my head. I immediately thought of that movie Dumb and Dumber. It wasn’t so much a reflection on those individuals but it may have been dumb to defy national regulations but how much dumber was it to then post it on social media?

I’m sure the Clarence Chatterbox will have something to say about these individuals as many ladies think these footballers are boofheads anyway and do not deserve any special treatment. I’m not sure they have received special treatment because they were fined twenty times the going rate for individuals off the street. Their ‘crime’ though, could have been catastrophic if they derailed the resumption of the NRL season later this month.

In last Friday’s Daily Examiner, Fox Sports presenter Ben Ikin stated that he thought many of the players who do the wrong thing are ‘victims’ of the environment they exist in and we should not be surprised when they go off the rails occasionally. I have heard it said that players at this elite level train hard, play hard and tend to party hard as well. He said they have to have a certain psyche to play the game at that level anyway and because they don’t live in the real world don’t be shocked.

I can support his view and I want to tell you about a couple of young men I coached in their late teens. I was sportsmaster at a large all boys boarding school where footy was king. Julian O’Neill came to us to complete his education and fast track any career in footy. I signed his initial contract with the Broncos along with John Ribot. He went on to play Origin footy and play in a premiership side. Most people tend to remember the incidents off the field he was involved in. He played with four different NRL clubs so that suggests trouble followed him.

What people don’t know is that Julian had unique family circumstances. He lost both his mother and father in separate incidents before he came to us and his guardian (uncle) died in his last year of school. He really missed that guidance badly after he left school.

I read Elysse Perry’s book Perspectives recently and something stood out that was relevant to these stories. She said “my role models have always been the people in my own home”. She went on to say “they are the people who have shaped who I am”. She could be a role model for any young girl with sporting talent but guidance is what’s needed. In Julian’s case, Wayne Bennett told me a year after Julian finished school that he was someone who just shouldn’t drink. The drink certainly exacerbated the behaviour. Whether they are victims or villains, circumstances can explain (not excuse) some behaviour.



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