The NRL’s integrity unit will investigate whether senior Canterbury officials covered up domestic violence allegations against star fullback Ben Barba earlier this year.
The NRL announced an independent review of the Bulldogs’ actions in relation to the decision to stand down Barba at the start of the season following the publication of a ”deeply disturbing” photo of a woman – understood to be Barba’s ex-partner Ainslee Currie – with facial injuries.
Currie, who has two children with Barba, took the pre-emptive step on Saturday of issuing a statement through her lawyer to deny she was the victim of domestic violence during their relationship.
NRL officials said at no stage had they previously seen the published image or been aware of any injuries suffered as a result of physical abuse by Barba, who last week signed a three-year deal with Brisbane after successfully seeking a release from the Bulldogs so he could live closer to Currie and their children.
It has been alleged that Currie approached the Bulldogs on February 24 – the day before the club announced that Barba had been stood down to deal with personal issues relating to their break-up – and Canterbury chief executive Todd Greenberg and coach Des Hasler encouraged her to go to the police.
Currie is understood to have been concerned about the welfare of Barba, who had counselling for 17 days at a Sydney rehabilitation clinic before being able to rejoin his teammates for training.
Greenberg is now the NRL’s head of football but Fairfax Media was told he would not be involved in the investigation. The NRL said Canterbury officials openly supported the review after calling for the integrity unit to investigate the domestic violence allegations against Barba in News Ltd newspapers on Sunday. The Bulldogs did so in a press release issued at 7.20am Sunday.
However, there are concerns within the Bulldogs that such a detailed account of the story could only have come from Canterbury insiders angered by the 2012 Dally M medal winner’s decision to quit the club with two years remaining on his contract.
If so, the move may have backfired as the focus is now on the way the club dealt with Barba and Fairfax Media understands that the NRL was never told by the Bulldogs about any domestic violence allegations against him.
News Ltd is understood to have been in possession of the photo for months but had refrained from publishing it until now, despite a female reporter referring to it in an article during the NRL’s Women in League round in May.
Greenberg had been repeatedly asked about the allegations both on and off the record since the shock announcement to stand down Barba on February 25, but denied it was one of the issues that led to the club taking such drastic action.
Asked at the press conference that day if the issue related to violence by Barba against any member of his family, Greenberg said: ‘‘This is an issue we are dealing with under the code of conduct of the club. If you walk the wring way and we are not happy about it, under our code of conduct we can come down heavily on players because we have very high standards.”
Currie’s lawyer, Campbell MacCallum, said in a statement issued to Fairfax Media on Saturday: ‘‘ … Ms Currie wishes to place on record for the final time that there has never been physical violence in the relationship and that the allegations that have been put to her by various media commentators are incorrect.’’
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.