They were born within three months of each other, have both played for their state, and both wear the number nine jersey, but there’s one big thing that separates Matt Ballin and Michael Ennis: reputation.
Kingaroy junior Ballin is one of the NRL’s favourite sons, while Ennis’ ability to get under opponents’ skin has earned him the nickname ‘Ennis the Menace’.
With 11 penalties against his name in 2014, journeyman Ennis is less penalised than he once was, but still frequently earns the ire of officials. He’s also making fewer tackles, fewer metres and more errors than last season, showing that it doesn’t get any easier in an ever-improving competition.
In some categories, the two 30-year-olds are hard to separate: Ballin is averaging 98.2 receives per games (1376), with Ennis averaging 97.7 (1368); Ballin has conceded eight penalties, Ennis 11; and in all-time head-to-head stakes, Ballin has seven wins, Ennis five.
They’re also two of the league’s most durable players. Incredibly, Ballin is preparing for his 174th consecutive game, while his Coffs Harbour-born rival is similarly unbreakable, having missed just one game since the start of 2012. Considering their gruelling position, this is a testament to both men’s fitness and toughness.
In other areas, Ballin has the edge on the former Knight, with his 45 tackles and 61 run metres per game trouncing Ennis’ 37 and 41 respectively. In fact, Ballin completed a season-high 84 metres against Canterbury in round 13, before smashing that figure with 113 against the Roosters, showing you need to mix it up against the best teams.
His service from dummy-half must be at his usual high standards to give the inexperienced Jack Littlejohn time and space to operate. Contrastingly, this will be Ennis’ second outing at halfback in 2014. Before this, he last donned the number seven for the Broncos in 2007.
One thing’s for sure though: it doesn’t matter where he plays on the field, Ennis’ reputation will follow him everywhere. Get ready for a dogfight.