Highs, lows and loneliness behind the adulation

Family ties ... Ben Barba's parents Ken and Kim.
Family ties ... Ben Barba's parents Ken and Kim.

It was one of the more touching post-try celebrations in rugby league. When Ben Barba scored the first of two tries against South Sydney, just hours after his partner and childhood sweetheart, Ainslie Currie, gave birth to their second daughter in 2011, he turned to the television cameras and stuck his thumb in his mouth.

Family meant everything to the Bulldogs fullback, who first became a father at the age of 19.

"I do this job because I want to support them and make them happy," Barba told Fairfax Media after the game.

"I thought I'd give her [his new daughter Bronte] something, hopefully they recorded it at home and they can show her when she gets a bit older. That was for her."

Now, Barba has lost his desire to play the game he loves.

After his separation from Ms Currie late last year, and subsequent problems with gambling, alcohol and spending, the 23-year-old Dally M player of the year has been stood down indefinitely from the Bulldogs.

"Ben Barba is ill and he needs help," Canterbury chief executive Todd Greenberg said on Monday.

"[He's] at a point where I think football is the furthest thing from his mind."

Marion Healy, an indigenous education counsellor who was closely connected to the Barba family in Mackay, said life contained highs and lows, and while a club could be a family, "only your real family can be there for you when the going gets really tough".

Barba was a 15-year-old high school student when he met Ms Currie in Mackay in north Queensland, where they both grew up.

When the promising young footballer moved to Sydney two years later to chase his rugby league dream, he struggled being away from his love and his relatives.

His father, Ken, told Fairfax Media last year that Barba would sometimes call them in Mackay late at night because he missed them.

"He'd ring up and say, 'I can't do this any more, Mum and Dad.' But we said, 'Son, this is your dream, this is what you wanted'," Ken said.

"His mum would get on a plane and come down and live in a motel close by. Knowing his mum was there with him, it would relax him."

Family friend Mrs Healy said: "It's lonely to send our young ones away from us like that. I tell you, every young boy up here wants to be an NRL player. But that world is a hard world to be in."

Being apart from his high school sweetheart was also taking its toll.

"They've been boyfriend and girlfriend since they were 15-year-olds in high school," his father said at the time.

Ms Currie eventually moved down to Sydney to be with Barba, who moved out of the accommodation provided by the Bulldogs to move in with her in a cramped one-bedroom apartment in Campsie.

Barba, playing in the Toyota Cup at the time, worked in a car wash in Yagoona to make ends meet. He had to ask for the day off at the car wash to make his first-grade debut.

The couple welcomed their first daughter, Bodhi, in 2009, followed by Bronte two years later, and bought their first home in Caringbah last year.

Ms Currie was by his side on the red carpet when he won the Dally M last year, but their relationship turned sour.

They separated before Christmas, although Barba reportedly did not move out until last week.

Images have surfaced on social media of Barba with a new girlfriend, Lauren Tweddle.

Lyn Fletcher, director of operations at Relationships Australia NSW, said many young people did not have the life experience to cope with the break-up of their first relationship.

"I think young people generally experience the intensity of relationship issues quite strongly," Ms Fletcher said.

"First of all, he is admitting that he has problems, and that is a big thing to do. He is looking for ways to cope with things. I think that's great that he is doing that. Particularly when there are children involved, for a young man to recognise his responsibilities and priorities is important."

Mrs Healy said: "Kenny and Kim, they'll be with their boy, their grandchildren and the partner. As tough as it is, they're very strong on family."

Ms Fletcher urged people struggling with the break-up of a relationship to recognise that they did not have to deal with it alone, and to seek professional help if needed.

With David Sygall

Relationships Australia NSW can be contacted on 1300 364 277 or online at www.nsw.relationships.com.au.

This story Highs, lows and loneliness behind the adulation first appeared on WA Today.