Barba a be­liever again

Su­per League stint has full­back primed for big sea­son with Cow­boys

Townsville Bulletin - - SPORT -

HIS coach may be­lieve his St He­lens legacy is “ham­pered” but Ben Barba will re­turn to the NRL with new- found be­lief af­ter cred­it­ing his UK Su­per League stint with re­dis­cov­er­ing his love for rugby league.

The hype over Barba’s NRL re­turn with the Cow­boys next year gained mo­men­tum af­ter the for­mer Cronulla star capped his two- year St He­lens stint by claim­ing the Man of Steel Award – Su­per League’s equiv­a­lent of the Dally M Medal.

The 29- year- old hopes his best is yet to come in his oneyear North Queens­land deal in 2019, say­ing the Saints had helped him re­gain his mojo. “I al­ways knew when I was com­ing here that it wasn’t go­ing to be easy,” Barba told BBC Sport.

“I knew what this com­pe­ti­tion is ca­pa­ble of. I think me go­ing back to the NRL is a lot about Su­per League and St He­lens.

“Saints got me en­joy­ing my foot­ball again and al­lowed me to play that ex­pan­sive foot­ball.”

But Saints coach Justin Hol­brook believes Barba’s UK stint may be tainted af­ter fail­ing to help the Su­per League heavy­weights win any end- of­sea­son sil­ver­ware.

St He­lens claimed the League Lead­ers’ Shield for fin­ish­ing mi­nor pre­miers six points clear of their ri­vals, but suf­fered a shock Su­per League semi- fi­nal loss to War­ring­ton.

The Saints also had a sur­prise Chal­lenge Cup semi­fi­nal de­feat ear­lier this year in the an­nual knock­out tourna- ment. Asked if Barba’s legacy was clouded by the de­feats, Hol­brook told St He­lens Star news­pa­per: “It is hard to an­swer be­cause we did get bun­dled out in the semi and feel that every­one’s assess­ment is ham­pered by that.

“I don’t think Benny can be ex­cluded from that.

“For how well we have done this year – lose one game ( in semi- fi­nals) and you are gone – it is hard.

“I said at the start he ( Barba) will be great for Su­per League and for St He­lens and he was that.

“But the fact that we did not get to the Chal­lenge Cup fi­nal or the Su­per League grand fi­nal is dis­ap­point­ing for Benny and for all of us.”

Barba scored 31 tries this year to earn the Man of Steel Award, be­com­ing just the sec­ond player be­hind Gavin Miller to claim the top hon­ours in both the UK and Aus­tralia.

The full­back will wear the No. 1 jumper in Townsville next sea­son as part of a straight swap af­ter Lach­lan Coote agreed to join St He­lens on a $ 1.5 mil­lion three- year deal. The Cow­boys move en­sures Barba re­turns to Aus­tralia for the first time since be­ing sacked by Cronulla for a sec­ond strike for il­licit drug use af­ter their 2016 grand- fi­nal win.

I KNEW WHAT THIS COM­PE­TI­TION IS CA­PA­BLE OF. I THINK ME GO­ING BACK TO THE NRL IS A LOT ABOUT SU­PER LEAGUE AND ST HE­LENS. BEN BARBA

Ben Barba.

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