Ready to go: Kurtley Beale makes his comeback for the Waratahs on Sunday. Photo: Anthony Johnson
IN A townhouse in the streets directly behind the northern goalposts of Allianz Stadium, Kurtley Beale hosts a Mexican night for his mates. A few nights later he whips up prawn linguini for dinner with girlfriend Maddi Blomberg, an AFL program manager and the granddaughter of Wallabies Invincible Col Windon.
One afternoon, after Waratahs training over the road, Beale and close friend Buddy Franklin – the other footballing superstar who kicks around Moore Park – spend the entire afternoon on his couch, smashing coffees and talking about life.
There are nights out in Bondi, too. Those have not entirely dried up, and nor have they gone unnoticed around Sydney’s eastern suburbs. But his few months so far in Sydney are a far cry from the loose days in Melbourne that culminated in a gut-wrenching, two-week stay in a rehabilitation centre in May. By and large, this is ”The Quiet Life”, starring Kurtley Beale. It is just the way he wants it.
Refocused: Kurtley Beale means business. Photo: Anthony Johnson
”There are plenty of opportunities to go overseas at the moment, or to league,” Beale says. ”But I think being here, under the guidance of [Waratahs coach] Michael Cheika and being closer to my family and some close friends, is the best decision. To set myself up, get myself stable, be consistent in that part of my life, and then if opportunities come down the track I can be confident in myself to be able to move away and be ready for the challenges ahead.”
It was tough to get this interview. Beale is sick of talking about the past. He understands it is the cost of his choices, but is still hurt and embarrassed. He describes visiting schoolchildren as an ambassador, knowing that when they Google his name they will read all about his mistakes.
He grants the interview only when it is agreed that he will not be asked about the recent bad times. The treatment centre, the boozy nights out in Melbourne with Buddy and James O’Connor, the court case in Brisbane, or the punch-up in South Africa.
And then, unprompted, he goes there himself. On the couch inside the cafe at Allianz Stadium, Beale talks about why a two-year deal with the Rebels was a recipe for disaster.
”When you’re in this environment, a lot of things are set out for you, it’s all done,” he says. ”When I get away from that environment I get lost. And that has happened for me since I was straight out from school, so I didn’t get the opportunity to go through those experiences myself.
”At times I was protected. I was always under the guidance of a coach, a manager, senior players, so I would just follow. Now I feel like I’m at the top. I understand now the position I’m in, and I know what I have to do to get myself right.”
Guy Reynolds believes him. The Macquarie Bank executive, whose family has been a key stabilising influence in Beale’s life since his days as a brilliant schoolboy rugby player at St Joseph’s College, had dinner with Beale on Thursday night.
Reynolds and his wife, Jenny, who recently helped Beale renovate his Moore Park townhouse, came away from Azuma Japanese restaurant in the city delighted and utterly relieved. They had been anxious about his move to Melbourne 2½ years ago and had watched, largely helpless, as life spiralled out of control for the young man they considered their fourth son.
”What I saw [on Thursday] made me really proud of who he had become in the last seven or eight months,” Reynolds says. ”He could have said, ‘I’ll go to France or play league’, but he seriously wants to play for his country again, which is great.”
Beale stayed with the Reynolds for much of last year, through the aftermath of his first and second suspensions from the Rebels and again after his stint in treatment as he prepared for the British and Irish Lions tour.
Reynolds believes he has never seen Beale happier or fitter. ”I’m not saying it’s all going to stop and life’s going to be rosy; I’ve seen too much to make that assumption,” he says. ”But the current place he’s in, playing with guys he went through school with, like [Waratahs] Pat McCutcheon, Pete Betham, Paddy Ryan and Rob Horne, I’m hoping those collective influences over time help him steer away from all the crap that’s out there.”
Beale agrees, crediting Cheika and his teammates, plus being close to his mother and family again, and the Reynolds, with reminding him why he is still in the game. When asked the last time he felt this good about his football, he did not hesitate.
”When I left here in 2011,” he says. ”I think you have to go through things to actually experience life and then you learn, but no one’s perfect. I have a good understanding about myself now and that’s all I worry about. Beforehand I used to worry about what everyone else thought of me. And that’s just wrong. So now I just worry about Kurtley and getting myself right.”
Would he have gone to Melbourne two years ago if he knew what turmoil it would bring?
”I think I would stay [in Sydney],” he says. ”I’m 25 now, I’ve learnt a lot from my past and learnt to understand that growing up I need to be in a stable position. Now I’m looking to the future – I call it building my nest. To do that I need to be in a good environment. Being back home in Sydney will help me, to build a career and help me be stable in my life after rugby.”
This is one big year for Beale, on field and off. It has been more than two years since Australia has seen the consistent form that earned the 39-Test playmaker the 2011 John Eales Medal.
Injury blighted his stint in Melbourne but controversy kept him in the headlines. Only the personal intervention of former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans and, arguably, regime change at the ARU, kept Beale in the game last year.
ARU chief Bill Pulver, who took over from John O’Neill in January last year, calls Beale a ”national treasure”. His actions last year – throwing out lifeline after lifeline as the incidents piled up – pointed to an unspoken principle that the game in Australia had a duty of care to a kid it poached from rugby league at 15, made professional at 16 and onto whose shoulders were thrust the wonders and burdens of sporting stardom.
But even rugby players have a finite number of lives. Beale is on a one-year deal with NSW and the ARU. A new Wallabies coach, Ewen McKenzie, has taken a hard line on discipline with several of Beale’s teammates and friends since taking over. The view inside the ARU is that one more serious transgression will have Beale exhaust his chances in rugby.
He starts at inside-centre for the Waratahs on Sunday, a position in which he has not always been comfortable, but which he promises to make his own. It is another chapter in a brilliant but complex career. Back home, injury-free and surrounded by good people, Beale says it is ultimately up to him.
”[Waratahs centre] Rob Horne got married last year, and so did my other mate,” he says. ”Everyone’s getting engaged around me. It’s not that I feel I have to do the same thing but I’m looking around and I have to realise that I’m not this young kid any more, I’m 25 and I have to think about the future and help myself get settled.”
He goes to say something else, then stops. He has crossed his fingers.
”I am always like that. I’m always looking over my shoulder,” Beale says. ”That’s coming back to me being comfortable with myself, accepting myself and being me. Not trying to be someone else, not trying to fit into a group. That’s what I’m working on.”