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Suspended Barba scrapped as face of NRL

The face of the NRL is no more, with Canterbury superstar Ben Barba's off-field life spiralling so out of control the Bulldogs claim they had no choice but to suspend him indefinitely.
Suspended Barba scrapped as face of NRL
by AAP

By Steve Jancetic

SYDNEY, Feb 25 AAP - The face of the NRL is no more, with Canterbury superstar Ben Barba's off-field life spiralling so out of control the Bulldogs claim they had no choice but to suspend him indefinitely.

Just two days before the reigning Dally M medallist was due to officially launch the NRL season at Sydney casino The Star, Barba was labelled as "ill" by Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg.

While refusing to go into specifics, Greenberg said the NRL's top drawcard needed "professional help" to deal with a multitude of issues.

The 23-year-old is struggling to come to terms with the breakdown in his relationship with his childhood sweetheart Ainslie Currie and an inability to deal with the fame his brilliant 2012 form garnered.

With an NRL return-date uncertain, the Bulldogs' premiership hopes have been left in tatters, but that appeared the furthest thing from Greenberg's thoughts on Monday.

"Ben Barba's ill - and he needs some help," Greenberg said.

"There are a multitude of issues in the reasoning behind us standing him down - Ben's lost his way and we need to help him find his way back.

"I have no doubt he can do that, but he needs to take personal accountability for that.

"These aren't issues to do with football - these are life-changing issues that are hard to confront for many people.

"The difficulty for Ben is he's confronting them in the public eye.

"His stardom shot within 12 months last year, there's no doubt about that and he's had great difficulty dealing with that issue."

Barba, who sought a meeting with Greenberg and coach Des Hasler on Sunday to discuss his problems, apologised to his teammates and supporters.

"My issues relate to seeking help for personal issues that I face day to day," Barba said in a statement.

"I'm incredibly sad to be stepping aside ... but I feel as though I would be wearing a mask if I didn't confront the matters I've been dealing with until now."

Asked whether it would be a case of days, weeks or months before he envisaged Barba returning, Greenberg said:

"I don't know when he'll come back to playing footy - it could be six weeks, it could be six months.

"Ben's at a point where football is the last thing on his mind and if anything I felt a sense relief that there was a plan in place to get his life back on track."

North Queensland co-captain Johnathan Thurston will step in to officially launch the season - Barba's fall from grace continuing somewhat of a curse for those branded the face of the game.

In 2009 the NRL was forced to re-edit its television commercial when Manly's Brett Stewart was banned for four weeks after an alcohol-fuelled evening at the club's season launch.

In 2011, Wests Tigers superstar Benji Marshall was involved in a late night altercation at a McDonald's outlet just days after launching the season.

Speculation has been rife for some time about Barba's struggles to keep his ego in check.

His pre-Christmas separation from long-time partner Currie, with whom he has two children, did little to calm his already unstable life.

There have been claims from within the club that his spending, gambling, drinking and partying had all reached levels of excess.

Greenberg however refused to air Barba's dirty laundry in the public sphere.

"How many boxes do you want to tick - there's a multitude of issues," Greenberg said.

"You can talk about alcohol, you can talk about gambling, you can talk about personal relationships, you can talk about etiquette, you can talk about simple values - there's a multitude of issues."

Greenberg said the club considered terminating Barba's contract for breaches of club rules, but said the Bulldogs were determined to help him resolve his issues.

"Don't think for one minute this is nothing other than drastic action," Greenberg said.

"We've just suspended the Dally M player of the year and the pin-up boy of the game for 2013.

"He will not be playing when we open the season. We're disappointed about that - but we've got to put his welfare first."

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