Ben Manenti is one of my original members of Human Performance. An extremely gifted young cricketer from NSW, finding his feet in the world of professional sport, seeking an opportunity and chance to show case his skills. Like many people, Ben has had his struggles balancing his career, study, social life and athletic development. Training in the Human Performance elite group, he has found his successful recipe again. I feel privileged to be part of his journey – Human Performance will celebrate the success he will have very soon. It will be one of the more memorable stories.
I first met Ben Manenti when he was 4 years old. I was working at the old Headquarters Bar in Camperdown and his dad John was the publican. To the surprise of many, he decided to employ me as a barman (my days serving schooners didn’t last very long, as I tended to enjoy spending more time on the other side of the bar).
Fast forward a few years, Ben was a little 6-year-old ball boy for the Sydney University Football Club (SUFC) 1st Grade rugby team, and I was prancing around in the centres for Sydney Uni with ridiculously coloured boots and dyed hair to match. Little did I know, that 15 years later he and I would be running around all parts of Sydney Uni and Glebe. Little did I realise that this would be the beginning of a remarkable journey for us both.
Post these initial memories, my next interaction with Ben was when he was 16 years of age and still at school. His dad was now coaching at Eastwood Rugby Club, and Ben sat on the sidelines watching the fierce rivalry between Eastwood and Sydney University in the Shute Shield. During a break in play, I heard an almighty spray from the 16-year-old that Ben had become, directed only at me. As he sat on the sidelines watching me in my Fluro coloured boots, the abuse didn’t cease until the full-time whistle. Thinking back, I start to realise that I may have had more of an influence on his development than I had first thought. Ben learnt how to get under the oppositions skin at a very young age.
Unfortunately for Ben, I would get my revenge. The year after he graduated from school, he was in his first season of 1st Grade for Sydney Cricket Club. Knowing my background in training cricketers, Ben contacted me about coming to join in and do some sessions with the Human Performance running group.
Ben’s recollection of the events of those early days was vivid:
“As I sat out the front of Ralph’s cafe waiting for Tom, I saw Brad Haddin walk past. A little bit in awe, I followed him into the cafe and soon found out that he was my training partner for my first session. Out the back of Ralph’s on the oval in the middle of Sydney Uni campus, in the middle of a uni semester, I was training with Tom Carter and Brad Haddin. My first session involved duck walking around the oval, with these bands elastic bands around my legs, and performing other movements that would push, pull and squeeze my body into positions that I had never experienced before. It was quite an extraordinary moment, some little chubby spinner training with Australia’s test wicket keeper. I duck walked for what felt like 3 hours, when in fact it was 45 minutes.
That year I continued to train twice a week with Tommy all summer and into the winter. Running Cook Street or Science Rd, sessions at the bottom of Glebe Point Road, the gym, the pool and steps in the Grandstand – every day was different. Tommy constructed my body into the most athletic shape it had ever been. I ran and ran, and when I thought there was no more running to do, we ran!”
Ben went to England that summer and had a great time and returned a better player. The only down side was that when he returned from England at the back end of 2015, with a summer of pints under his belt and plenty of roast dinners, he tried to dodge coming back to train with me. His fear probably based on some genuine reason, was that he knew I would be waiting to commence some more ‘paint stripping and body reconstructing’. He tried to avoid me with better footwork than Benji Marshall in his prime, until he got picked in the NSW 19s and showed up a little overweight.
When he eventually decided to get back in touch, I said “I don’t care how you feel for the next 6 weeks, you have to get ready for 19s”. That 6 weeks was brutal – as hard as I have squeezed the limits of human physiology. To his credit, Ben showed up to the 19s carnival and won a national championship, so it was probably worth it. For Ben, it was a break through moment. As he would attest:
“I started to notice I was getting to balls in the field that I wouldn’t have gotten near the year before, it was working out well. I was starting to believe”.
Ben stayed home that winter and trained with me for the duration. Cold mornings involving brutal hill running and hip mobility sounded pretty ordinary in comparison to sitting in Europe playing cricket and living the easy life as he had previously experienced. Ben got in the best shape of his life that winter. His 2km time trial improved, his hip mobility increased, he was fitter, leaner and stronger, and ready for a massive summer. It was his biggest summer yet. According to Ben:
“At the start of the 2016/17 season, I got picked in the ACT Comets 2nd Xl Team, and had a good year from them. Brad Haddin was a Performance Consultant for the ACT Comets and had organised for Tommy to run a training session 2 times a week with the boys that lived in Sydney. Everyone that he worked with had a great year. We all excelled under his tuition. The first session was dissecting everyone’s running technique, he had a field day. I sense this is where he feels at his happiest. The nutty professor, with a smile at the shapes and techniques young cricketers were exhibiting. Before we knew it, we were all moving better and playing better.
I met another cricketer by the name of Nathan Lyon, the person who I had admired as my role model as a bowler. Tommy had been working with him and I was lucky enough to tag along to some of his sessions. Tommy had him flying his hip mobility, speed, power, athleticism and fitness. I knew I had miles to go to get there. Through Tommy I also managed to bowl with Nathan and learnt so much off him. Nathan was moving so well in the field, and every time he took a catch I got a message from Tommy saying that’s how I have to move. He was right, although I knew how much I’d improved, knew I still had work to do both on and off the field.
By the end summer of 2017/18 I played for the Sydney Sixers academy and the NSW 2nd XI team. I had shaved 1 minute off my 2km time trial, lost 18kgs and changed my body shape. That year I became the 28th player to take 50+ wickets and score 500+ runs in a grade season, we won a 20/20 competition and came close in the other formats. I owe a hell of a lot of this to Tommy. His constant texts saying we were ‘on tomorrow at 6am’ and messages congratulating me on performances is what shaped my summer.”
Despite another outstanding season in the Australian summer of 2017/2018, Ben was still restless after not receiving a state contract within Australia. His greatest strength is his drive and inner resolve to become a professional cricketer. Ben searched every possible avenue to achieve his cricketing dreams.
“In 2018, on the day Jarryd Hughes won an Olympic silver medal in the Snow Board Cross at the Winter Olympics, I had visited Tommy to discuss my plans for the winter. We watched Jarryd’s race, and although Tommy and his relationship had ended before the Olympics, everyone knew what Tommy had done for him for over 6 years. It made me realise that Tommy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I had heard stories both from the opposition on a Rugby Union field and from others within cricket circles to attest. If you don’t like honest feedback or hearing the truth he is definitely not the one for you. He is perfectly comfortable with, in fact his smile these days tends to not ever change. He has found a strong sense of peace about his perception. I have learnt that his honesty is not erratic or misguided. He has an extraordinary ability to see the future and shape the path you need to achieve athletic excellence. He sees it, he believes it and he tells it how it needs to be implemented in order to occur.
I was contemplating another summer in the UK, and Tommy told me to stay and see what happened. But I knew that if I got a good winter of training under my belt with all the stuff he’d taught me in regard to fitness and lifestyle choices, plus getting to play competitive cricket, I’d be on the right path. So I decided to head to the UK, and I took off with the plan and intention to come back leaner, faster and stronger. The best athletic version of myself.
To be fair to Tommy he could have easily brushed me and said that he will just see me when I come back – but he messaged me on WhatsApp and wrote me emails every week. He sent me programs telling me what I need to do, reminding me I had to change the perception about my athletic ability in cricket circles. If he had just left me, I would have probably come back like I did my first time I was in the UK, but he was adamant that I’d come back a better athlete.
In September of 2018 I came back 94kg (22kg lighter than when I returned from my first trip to the UK), and. I knew that I had to get back to him and start training, with the Sydney grade season only a couple weeks away. We changed from the focus on ‘lung searing gut running’, to movement skills and drills that were focused on making me a better athlete. Don’t get me wrong it was still tough, and there is certainly a place for a good old fashion pasting up Cook Street. My hip mobility was improving each session and I was the fittest I’d been.
Our aim is to have an extraordinary 2018/19 season. I’ve been to some dark places when training with Tommy, but it’s all for a reason. I think you need to turn up to realise how hard they can be, but also how much you will improve. I couldn’t recommend him higher to anyone seeking improvement on the field or in day-to-day life”.
I am fortunate to meet some extraordinary athletes and Ben’s story around dedication, sacrifice and belief in his ability is second to none. It is not a matter of if, but when and what time he succeeds and achieves his cricketing goals. Ben has the skills, mindset and athletic capacity to not only play First Class cricket, but shape the way the modern spinner can bowl and bat. He will get is opportunity and he will be ready.