Former NRL players Jamal Idris and Lee Te Maari believe you have to beat a legend to be a legend, so they took on Frownlow medallist Ben Barba in a fist fight to earn a nomination for The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame.
The Frownlow Medal is awarded to the player whose off-field demeanour epitomises the values of the modern-day footballer and draws attention to the status of footballers as role models to young Australians. It covers Australia’s four major football codes; the National Rugby League (NRL), Australian Football League (AFL), the A-League (Football) and Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition. NRL player Shaun Kenny-Dowall won the inaugural medal in 2015, while AFL player Elijah Taylor is the most recent recipient.
The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame honours former players and players who received media attention in previous seasons, for similarly scandalous behaviour, and its inductees include Ben Cousins and Julian O’Neill.
Idris, Te Maari and Barba were all playing for the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2009 and had been socialising at a teammate’s house all afternoon. They were driving home together and decided to stop off at the Wentworthville Hotel in Sydney’s west to buy some drinks. They then realised that drinking drinks is better than just buying drinks, and stepped inside for a few coldies. When they stepped outside, Barba slammed Te Maari up against a wall and Idris stepped in.
This is where it gets interesting.
Barba is short, and fast, like most top fullbacks. Te Maari was a backrower and Idris was one of the biggest players in the game at the time. But still Barba took them on, because that’s the definition of Dutch Courage and that’s the kind of decision making that wins a player The Frownlow Medal.
The scuffle escalated and Idris ended up punching Barba in the face, leaving the young star with a bloody nose. As with any true footballing bromance, the players soon kissed and made up, and it was later revealed that Barba had been niggling and annoying Idris and Te Maari all afternoon.
Young guns Idris and Barba were dropped for one game. In a bizarre addition to his post-NRL story, Idris was the victim of an attempted kidnap while on holiday in Vietnam. Perhaps the kidnappers had been drinking what Barba was drinking.
Meanwhile, the more experienced Te Maari was suspended for two games as a result of the Wentworthville incident, which was not his first. He got into a fight outside a nightclub in Wollongong in 2008, and in 2010 was charged with numerous driving offences, including driving without a license. The backrower didn’t tell the club about his offence until it appeared in court, and the Bulldogs eventually tore up his contract.
Ironically, Barba and Idris were scheduled to attend an Arrive Alive promotion just days after the fight, where they would function as role models for junior rugby league players in western Sydney.
Referring to the incident and to the respective punishments, a Bulldogs official said at the time:
“Ben and Jamal are young players with big careers ahead of them and I hope this punishment will serve as a warning to them on what they stand to lose if they continue down the wrong path.
Lee is acutely aware of his responsibilities and I don’t expect to see him in front of the disciplinary committee again.”
Barba did continue down the wrong path, and despite winning the Dally M medal and a premiership, what lay head for him was a Frownlow medal and a nomination for The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame.
Te Maari also faced the disciplinary committee again.
Barba is expected to take on Idris and Te Maari again in a lopsided tag-team fight at the awards night for The Frownlow Medal and The Frownlow Medal Hall of Fame later this year.