Stars who came back from the brink
They have emerged from the haze and pressure that can engulf you as a professional rugby league player.
Rather than criticise Parramatta or question State of Origin selections, today I want to reflect on those who have gone through hell - and overcome horror headlines - to star in our game.
I want to discuss Paul Gallen, Todd Carney, Greg Inglis, Petero Civoniceva, Brett Stewart and Anthony Minichiello.
Before I heap praise on Paul Gallen, I thought there was a relapse on Monday night to the bad old days where he just couldn’t help himself. The knee to Dave Taylor's head didn’t look like an accident and I was surprised with the not guilty verdict, but the force wasn’t great and the grade one was all it deserved.
Let’s not let that spoil what has been a remarkable turn around in public perception and a colossal start to 2012. It doesn’t seem that long ago that the only fan Gal had was the guy that put the shark suit on at Toyota Stadium at the weekends. His public image was a far cry from the revered player he is now. The multiple sponsors he now has wouldn’t have touched him a few years ago, so tarnished was his public image.
Today, though, every Blues fan wants him to lead us into battle at State of Origin level. That responsibility as a leader at all levels has seen him come out the other side as a true champion on and off the field.
This bloke was actually de-registered by the NRL - can it get any worse? He was in trouble with his footy and with the law which has all been well documented.
Lets hope the second coming of Todd Carney is for keeps. What a talent, and what a game he produced on Monday night - easily his most spectacular in what has been a very solid start in the Sharks colours.
His involvement, with the solo try, the three try assists and the constant threat to the Souths defence, was a very good sign for Cronulla and NSW (the latter needing all the positive news it can get). I have to praise Sharks coach Shane Flanagan here. Flanagan signed Carney but refused to place any curfews or alcohol restrictions on him.
Carney has since come forward to claim he is finally being treated as a human being. And isn't his footy magnificent? He must have sunk to some heavy lows over the years but again is riding that wave of success. Let's all hope it means enough to him this time around, so selfishly we get much more.
I mentioned earlier that the players I want to praise here have all had some issues in recent times. Well, Petero is the exception.
But I wanted to discuss him anyway because he has made the call to retire after this year. What a stellar ambassador he has been for rugby league. A true gentleman.
He has always been decent, honest and polite. We shouldn't however overlook what he has achieved on the field. Petero has represented Queensland in 30 Origin games and played 45 Tests for Australia. That's some record and it’s likely to continue as he prepares to do battle one final time against NSW. He will rightly go down as one of finest and hardest props of the modern era.
Did you happen to catch his three-try performance on Monday night? It must have sent Ricky Stuart into a state of depression!
Let's not forget that Inglis went through his own crisis a few years ago. He was a part of the Storm salary cap drama and the pressure became so intense he almost walked away for AFL.
Then of course he had a handshake agreement with Brisbane before walking away to join Souths. Even the move to the Bunnies hadn’t been a huge success until round 3 this year when he was moved to fullback.
What a move it’s been, and what a waste at club level a player like Inglis has been in the centres. A good game here and there, sometimes weeks with very little involvement in the game at all, while most of his runs seem to come from dummy half.
Playing fullback has given him the freedom to dictate when and where he gets the ball and we saw the result on Monday night. Definitely one of the big individual performances of the year. The fact he looks 10kg lighter than last year has played a part in how effective he has been. He covered plenty of ground against the Sharks, something that just wouldn’t have been possible last season.
Souths already have an Immortal who played in the no.1, and while that honour is for a select few, nothing is out of the question now that a freakish talent has found his rightful spot on the field.
Stewart is poised to win back his NSW fullback jumper - and who could deny him? The Manly no.1 visited hell and back during a sexual assault allegation, of which he was later cleared in court. During the court case and afterwards, he has battled two career-threatening knee injuries - that’s a fair bit on one bloke's plate.
He became reserved and often sullen during the drama but has now well and truly bounced back. It is nice to see Stewart smile again and his footy is back to its best.
Throughout the court hearings, Stewart had a wonderful ally and mentor in Des Hasler, and of course the support of his very close family.
I even saw Stewart complete a rare television interview with Fox Sports the other night. It seems he has now moved on - and his football is benefiting.
You cannot help but applaud him.
I seem to think Minichiello missed three long seasons through back and neck issues. That alone would have driven most players into retirement. But Minichiello has amazing resolve and mental toughness. He kept coming back and persevering.
Some suggested he should retire. Thankfully, 'Mini' never listened.
Even earlier this year, there was speculation the Roosters were going to dump Minichiello. Again, thankfully, he didn't listen.
Minichiello has not only been rewarded with another contract at Bondi but he is playing some of his best rugby league. He played SOO last year but I think his form in 2012 is better. Mini is an enormously popular player, and I know that just about all that have played with and against are wrapped to see a guy that has gone through so much to get back on the field grab everything that comes his way.