Sporting Declaration: What a load of Bull

IN among the cloak and dagger of the Australian Crime Commission's sporting inquisition, a mystery has been solved.

This columnist and many others have spent the past 12 months pondering the train wreck that was the Newcastle Knights' 2012 campaign.

How could a season of grand expectations deliver such an underwhelming outcome?

A myriad of theories have been tossed up and dissected but it was not until this week that Knights coach Wayne Bennett inadvertently let the cat out of the bag by revealing a closely guarded secret - the game's most successful tactician has imposed a Red Bull ban on his players.

For the uninitiated, Red Bull is surely the most recognised "energy drink" on the planet.

A self-proclaimed "functional beverage", Red Bull claims on its website that it "vitalises body and mind in virtually any situation of our daily life . . . [and] improves concentration, reaction speed and vigilance". And while this may sound like typical advertising porkies, Sporting Declaration can vouch from personal experience that Red Bull is the nectar of the gods.

Like mother's milk, it contains nutrients essential for all-round well-being: pristine rainwater collected from the Swiss alps, subtly blended with organically grown caffeine, taurine, glucuronolactone, inositol, niacinamide, pantothenic acid and vitamins B6 and B12.

Mother Nature's 11 secret herbs and spices.

All of which are left to mature until the vibrant tannins and fruity zest combine in a palate-blasting concoction that evokes images of oven cleaner and cough medicine.

It is indeed a magnificent drop.

And without doubt it is a (perfectly legal) performance enhancer that helps take your game to a whole new level.

Take my trip last year to the London Olympics.

Every day for three weeks I worked longer hours, wrote more stories and absorbed greater stress than ever before in my career. Most days I'd be up at 6am and home after midnight, churning out thousands of words at each event and meeting impossible deadlines with military precision.

Under my own steam, I would have crashed and burned within a few days. With Red Bull coursing through my veins, I was an irresistible force.

No sooner would my alarm rouse me from a coma each morning than I'd scull a couple of 250-millilitre cans.

The breakfast of champions. Sugar free, of course. Body is a temple and all that.

Then my eyeballs would roll back in their sockets, I would crank up AC/DC on my iPod and launch myself out the front door. Just me, Angus Young and 160 milligrams of high-grade caffeine.

The next few hours would pass in a blur. And so on and so on until I collapsed in a heap.

Day after day, for three weeks. All thanks to rocket fuel.

Admittedly when you push yourself to such superhuman limits it takes a toll.

I developed a persistent nervous twitch and a stutter.

Several teeth fell out.

I noticed hairs growing on the palms of my hands and became involved in fierce, irrational arguments . . . with myself.

By the end of the Olympics, I had forgotten my date of birth, yet work-wise I didn't miss a beat.

If there had been medals for Red Bull consumption, I would have collected gold, silver and bronze.

Nonetheless, all good things come to an end and I knew this life in the fast lane could not continue forever.

On the flight home to Australia, it was time to go cold turkey.

All it took was a bit of willpower, also known as a straitjacket, and I had kicked the habit.

But to this day, I can't walk past a supermarket soft-drink aisle without experiencing a wistful sense of deja vu.

Not everyone, of course, is quite so willing to take a walk on the wild side.

But maybe it's time for Wayne Bennett to let his troops take the Bull by the horns.

It can't do them any harm.

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