Sport

NRL star Michael Ennis on rebuilding confidence and making a difference in the community. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: COURTESY CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS

Heart in the game: Michael Ennis, 31, rugby league player

It might sound bizarre but last year was my most enjoyable season for quite some time. Because I was fortunate enough to be at Canterbury in two runs to grand finals. But last year I felt I was able to contribute more to the team than I did in previous seasons. 

It was nice to be able to take a back seat from being captain. We’ve obviously got a very good captain in Paul Gallen, so stepping back from those responsibilities – being able just to sit back and pick my times when I talk to different guys – it’s something I really enjoy doing.

There was a time I started to question whether I was ever going to become the player that I knew deep down I could become. I had been through some rough periods with injury, and in 2008, Wayne Bennett really built confidence in me again. To be able to get me back to where I was. That was a really enjoyable season. 

[Coach] Shane Flanagan’s really given me that this year, too. Our last season he really, really brought that back out in me. I’m grateful for that. To be happy out on the football field, playing the way you know you can, where you’re comfortable.

Playing in the NRL is like a jigsaw. A puzzle. It’s a lot different to playing junior football. It takes time to develop and work out what sort of player you can be. You get some games under your belt, you start to get into the rhythm of playing week-to-week football. You then tend to build some continuity in your game.

I was a Manly supporter as a young kid. The posters on my wall were guys like Geoff Toovey and Cliff Lyons. Later it was Andrew Johns and Danny Buderus. They were very courageous. You know, extremely calm, gladiatorial players and great leaders.

I want to win, whether it’s training in shallow drills or if I’m playing tennis with mates or swimming, something just kicks over in the brain. I was always the younger brother. Maybe you feel something in you because you’re forever trying to compete with someone older than you, more experienced and more advanced.

I still don’t know whether it’s a great thing or whether it’s a bad thing. But while everyone in this sport is so results-driven, I suppose it’s certainly something that helps me to be able to compete and achieve on the field.

What’s the most underrated aspect of the way I play? If I had to answer, I’d say my creativity from dummy half. But I try to just perform well for my teammates and come home and live my life with my family.

There is certainly a stereotype of footballers, but I think it’s changed a lot. Some of the guys are highly intelligent. I certainly need to do things a little bit differently, at times, being the weight that I am and the size. I’m among opposition men that are sometimes 40 kilos heavier than me. I do need to be smarter and wiser and try to think of ways around it. 

Commentating gives you another outlook on the game. I haven’t commentated on any first grade in my role yet. I’ve been a little bit hesitant to, I suppose. It gives you a sense of responsibility and almost another occupation. It might sound strange to people by saying it’s like having another job, because it’s still rugby league. But it’s quite different to what I would have thought, the little things that go into it. It’s challenging and I enjoy it.

In your career you spend all this time fighting to establish yourself – but you don’t understand the impact that you can have in the community. Then at an early age the Brisbane children’s hospital gave me an opportunity to be an ambassador and it really opened my eyes. The feeling that you get being able to put a smile on kids’, parents’, their siblings’ faces by doing something so little is highly rewarding. Now the community programs that we’ve got at Cronulla have been great. We’ve launched a Sharks Have Heart Foundation, which I think is a really exciting step for the club.

So many guys do so much work that goes unnoticed. We’ve talked about the game changing over the length of my career, certainly that area has increased enormously. And Cronulla are certainly at the forefront of that.

 

This week’s highlights…

• Soccer: A-League – Wellington Phoenix v Adelaide United

Saturday, 5.15pm (AEDT), Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand

• Horseracing: Australian Guineas Day

Saturday, 1st race 12.40pm (AEDT), Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne 

• Cricket: Australia v South Africa, 2nd Twenty20 

Sunday, 11.30pm (AEDT), New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg

• NRL: North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

Saturday, 7.30pm (AEDT), 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville

• Tennis: Davis Cup – Australia v United States

Saturday noon (AEDT), Sunday 11am, Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club, Melbourne

• Soccer: Matildas v North Korea, Olympic qualifier

Monday, 9.35pm (AEDT), Nagai Stadium, Osaka, Japan

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 5, 2016 as "Heart in the game". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.