'Unique reality': League great's stunning claims NRL stars are 'victims'

Australian Associated Press
·3-min read
Pictured here, two photos of the social distancing breaches that have rocked the NRL.
Several social distancing breaches from NRL players have rocked the code over the last week. Pic: Instagram

State of Origin great Ben Ikin has made the provocative claim that rugby league fans can't expect NRL stars to always toe the line because of the high-risk, brutal nature of the sport they play.

Endorsing the league's decision to dish out heavy fines rather than suspend Nathan Cleary, Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr for breaking social distancing laws, Ikin believes NRL players are victims of the "unique" environment they're thrust into.

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"Put in a situation going forward, whether either in lockdown or asked to commit to 48 pages of protocols, then someone's going to get it wrong," Ikin said on Fox League Live.

Pictured here, NRL great Ben Ikin.
Ben Ikin says NRL players live in a 'unique reality' that can be challenging at times. Pic: Getty

"Maybe a few of them will get it wrong and if it sort of snowballs, then where are we left if we're continually suspending players?

"Yes, we lose the confidence of the public but ultimately I think it was clever from the NRL to address this knowing that the future, both for the game, for the state and for these players in the situation they're going to be put in is going to be extremely uncertain."

Ikin's stance is sure to spark debate, but he's adamant fans can't expect Cleary, for example, to be a match-winning risk-taker on the field and perfect law-abiding citizen off it.

"I was Nathan Cleary once - a young player who was getting a whole lot of adulation because of the job that I did, living a life with a whole stack of profile and because of you're environment and the life you're living - which I must say is sort of five or even 10-fold now - you develop this sense of self-entitlement," said Origin's youngest-ever player.

"It's an inflated sense of self - and that's not a slur on the person. That was just the situation I found myself in.

"The way you get treated by people in the public, you know, fans of the game, and all of a sudden you find yourself not having that life experience and lacking that emotional security, making decisions that young men (my) age (now) wouldn't make.

"The truth of it is, these guys need a certain psychology to play one of the most brutal collision sports on the planet.

Ikin says footy players live in a ‘unique reality’

"They are hyper competitive, often they come from troubled backgrounds (and) they're put in an environment that is so unique and exaggerated that the only logical conclusion is that from time to time you have to expect exaggerated behaviour.

"It's what you expect on the field and I absolutely believe that from time to time it's going to happen off the field.

"And in some respects, even they all know right from wrong, sometimes in the moment they turn to the person they are on the field at the worst possible time off it."

Ikin claimed earning up to 10 times the average wage of everyday Australians also led to NRL stars "losing their grip on reality".

"Because it's a pretty unique reality that they're living in," he said.

"When you combine that with this weird thing we're all going through as a community, as a country, as a planet, then it has a compounding effect."