Sterling Gold: A sledge too far?
I like Michael Ennis and rate him very highly as a rugby league player. On the few occasions I have been in his company I have found him to be intelligent, articulate and a deep thinker about the game.
That is why I was dismayed and disappointed with his reported comments following his run-in with Parramatta's Nathan Hindmarsh over the weekend.
After being labelled as "a grub" by the respected Eels veteran, Ennis put his own perspective on the unsavoury assessment by claiming it was "a light spray" and that he'd "been called worse at home".
I'm sure this was an attempt to lighten the situation but I don't believe a mention of the home front was a great way to try and get his point across. I would imagine that his lovely wife would also have every right to believe that it did not paint the most flattering of pictures.
While Hindmarsh maintained a dignified silence on what was the catalyst to the blow-up, Michael erased any doubt that there had in fact had been sledging involved.
I fully understand the use of gamesmanship and the desire to gain an advantage over an opponent by using whatever means necessary. Often that edge may come through the non-physical.
But to what point?
In my opinion, to the point of where certain lines are never crossed.
First and foremost family is completely off-limits. This is followed by race and religion.
I've always believed that questioning an opponent's toughness is even a poorer avenue to explore because every player knows the necessary courage that is involved in crossing the sideline to do battle in the first place.
Funnily enough (excuse the pun) but I've also found that it is actually humour that has provided the most successful approach in really getting under an opponent's skin.
Steve Walters castigating Benny Elias to hurry up to the scrum being set because he had a Test match to get ready for the next weekend is still a classic. A cutting, incisive and clever barb to which Benny could never have come up with a satisfactory response.
Now I have no idea what transpired verbally between Ennis and Hindmarsh last Friday night and to be honest I don't really want to know. I'd prefer to give the benefit of the doubt to all concerned.
I also fully understand the win at all cost mentality and understand where legendary Liverpool F.C. manager Bill Shankly was coming from, when he said "some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you it's much more serious than that".
But, again, to what point? In my opinion, to the point to where respect and dignity go out the window.
Michael Ennis should care, deeply care, what Nathan Hindmarsh thinks of him because when he leaves the game that will be his greatest reward and legacy.
It will never be how many Tests or Origins were played or how many Premiership rings have been won because a victory is no victory at all without honour, and that honour comes from the respect of your peers.
They are the harshest markers and therefore the best judges of opponents. They are the people who see the influences, effects and nuances in the unforgiving arena of competition that are missed by the masses.
It is no lie when players say that the most rewarding awards to receive are those voted upon by their fellow professionals.
By implying that he really didn't give two hoots to what Hindmarsh had to say, that he "was entitled to his opinion" and could "say whatever he likes," was not a good reflection on the Canterbury hooker. With the standing that Nathan holds in the game and the way he has carried himself, it seems to me there is also an implication that Michael also wouldn't care what a Darren Lockyer or a Petero Civinoceva would think of him, and that would be a real shame.
Now we, of course, would not be having this conversation if the Parramatta skipper had not turned around and reacted the way that he did, so there must be a burden of blame which he has to carry.
This is something that he acknowledged at the post-match press conference, where he expressed his disappointment at his own shortcoming in allowing himself to succumb to being niggled.
There are times that the hardest thing to do is turn the other cheek, but for the good of the team it is something that just has to be done. As the Eels leader it was particularly important that Nathan put himself above such distraction and the fact that he was unable to do so proved costly both personally and for his teammates.
Let's hope it was a lesson well learnt by all.
As I said, I like Michal Ennis and rate him very highly as a player. However after the weekend I hope that he does what we all need to do at various times, and that is have a good look at where he wants to go and how he is going about getting there.