Former NRL star Ben Barba is revelling in the chance to restart his rugby league career with St Helens and is hoping it will eventually lead to a return to the Telstra Premiership.
Barba was named the man of the match for the Saints in their Super League season opener against Castleford on the weekend and if this performance was anything to go by, we may not have seen the last of the 2016 Cronulla Sharks premiership winner playing in the NRL.
Barba not only scored twice, but he also had a hand in most of their attacking raids in the eight-try romp over the Tigers. He also made an astounding try-saving tackle on winger Greg Eden, which led to Barba scoring a short time later.
He has signed with St Helens until the end of the 2019 season but told NRL.com he had unfinished business in Australia and would be on the lookout for another opportunity after his St Helens stint.
“Yeah of course. Obviously, that’s something that if the NRL allows me to, I’d love to come back,” he said in reference to his 12-week ban for a second positive test to cocaine.
“I’m only 28 and if I get the chance after playing over here to be able to play back in the NRL, hopefully someone will take me.”
Barba played a handful of games for St Helens at the end of last season after a short-lived stint in French rugby when his time at the Sharks was cut short following his drugs ban.
“I’m obviously feeling good and I don’t feel I’m getting to that 30 mark yet. I know if I look after myself and continue to do the right things I’ll be able to perform at a high level for a few more years hopefully,” he said.
“As far expectations on myself go, I’m looking to enjoy myself. I’m trying to just keep my footy and my family life separate from everything else and it helps me focus a little better over here.
“Not having the media being so attentive with me over in Australia sort of helps me relax and it keeps me in a really good head space.”
With the first round now out of the way, does Barba feel the pressure on him has alleviated?
“It’s a good way to start but I’m now I’m excited to continue that and get to next week and perform week in and week out,” he said.
“Winning man of the match is always good to get but now it gets a little harder as I have to keep that focus switched on every week, but as a marquee player you expect to have the pressure.
He put his starring performance against Castleford down to his pre-season dedication.
After a stint playing in France for Toulon, Barba said he had to do a lot of fitness work to cope with the demands of rugby league.
“It’s been something we’ve all been working towards, not just myself but St Helens as well. On a personal note and a team note, I think we all performed well and it allowed me to play the way I did,” Barba said.
“Obviously the stint I had in rugby union I enjoyed very much, but fitness wise, the two games require a different level.
“Union is obviously very different and something I didn’t get used to while playing in France. Coming back to league, I knew I had to work hard on my fitness and I knew I had to perform at my best.”
St Helens coach Justin Holbrook coach was also pleasantly surprised on Barba’s performance in the post-game press conference.
“Ben was really good, especially when we were down to 12 men and he came up with that big tackle. Then, on the very next set he scores a try too. Special players produce special plays and he did two in two minutes. He was fantastic,” he said.
“I didn’t predict he would have such a good night but I always said he would produce some of the things he would do. He has had a good pre-season and came back two-and-a-half weeks earlier too. If you do those sorts of things you get the rewards don’t you?
And unlike his time living in France where there was a language barrier, Barba is settling in quickly with his new teammates.
“There are a couple boys from back home, Dom Peyroux and Zeb Taia. We sort of keep together and keep each other company. Having them around has really made the transition easier,” Barba said.