Ben Barba

CRONULLA SHARKS

Inside Sport - - FOOTY FINALS -

Re­mem­ber Ben Barba? The kid of 2012 who played like a video-game char­ac­ter come to life, a splen­did sprite who un­leashed one meme-wor­thy high­light after another as he be­came the lead­ing try-scorer and the most talked-about player in the comp? He was that de­light­ful rar­ity: the way he played looked so much fun, it was in­fec­tious.

Re­al­ity mugged Barba pretty hard in the fol­low­ing years, in his per­sonal and professional life. From Can­ter­bury via Bris­bane to Cronulla, his ar­rival in the Shire had the feel of a come­down – like a former young movie star set­tling for a net­work tele­vi­sion show. Still only in his mid-20s, there were other, younger tal­ents at the club set to fly past him, like Jack Bird and Valen­tine Holmes.

Un­pre­dictabil­ity has al­ways been a Barba trait, and after spend­ing most of his first year with the Sharks as a spark­plug off the bench, his sec­ond sea­son has taken a dif­fer­ent turn. In­stalled once again in the no.1 jumper, Barba has been an in­te­gral part of a dream Cronulla run, as they flirted with break­ing the league’s record win­ning streak.

It’s a dif­fer­ent Barba to the one of 2012 – where he had been the free-run­ning soloist with the Bull­dogs. At Cronulla he’s served more as a play­maker in the league’s high­est-scor­ing at­tack, work­ing in con­cert with halves James Maloney and Chad Townsend. While he re­mains a po­tent try-scorer, it’s notable that Barba was also top-five in the NRL for try as­sists.

The ques­tion re­mains in front of Barba and his team: can Cronulla finally get it done? The club that fa­mously re­mains with­out a premier­ship since it en­tered the league in 1967 is looking at its best op­por­tu­nity yet. Barba, whose dream 2012 ended in grand fi­nal loss, will be seek­ing to cap this recla­ma­tion project in the most un­for­get­table way.

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