St He­lens to block a Barba re­turn

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORT - DAVID RICCIO

BEN Barba’s dream to re­turn to the NRL will re­main ex­actly that — with St He­lens stand­ing firm on the for­mer Dally M medal win­ner fin­ish­ing his con­tract in the UK.

In a bid to de­ter­mine the like­li­hood of Barba ever re­turn­ing to the NRL, The Sun­day Tele­graph con­tacted St He­lens man­age­ment in the English Su­per League last Thurs­day.

“Let us reaf­firm that Ben is con­tracted to the club un­til the end of the 2019 sea­son,’’ a St He­lens spokesper­son said.

“Ben is in a win­ning side, he’s en­joy­ing life, so no, we’ve not had one con­ver­sa­tion (about Barba re­turn­ing to the NRL) with Ben or his man­age­ment and neither do we ex­pect to.’’

Barba, who has scored five tries in eight matches for the lad­der-lead­ing Saints, re­cently went pub­lic with his de­sire to re­turn to the NRL, declar­ing “if the NRL al­lows me, I’d love to come back”.

How­ever, it seems Barba will have to wait un­til the 2020 NRL sea­son be­fore con­sid­er­ing a re­turn to Aus­tralia.

The Sun­day Tele­graph has also learnt there are no early re­lease clauses in Barba’s con­tract. How­ever, given the prece­dence set by Cronulla hooker James Sege­yaro — who walked out on his con­tract with Leeds by fail­ing to re­turn to Eng­land af­ter a trip home to Aus­tralia — St He­lens are aware that if Barba was de­ter­mined to get out early from his con­tract, he could.

The NRL has pre­vi­ously stated that the 28-year-old, who was sus­pended for 12 matches and sub­se­quently re­leased by Cronulla af­ter test­ing pos­i­tive to co­caine for a sec­ond time in Novem­ber, 2016, would be per­mit­ted to re­turn to the NRL so long as he can prove he’s a changed man.

The NRL would want to see proof from Barba that he’s un­der­gone the nec­es­sary coun­selling and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, to in­di­cate that he is un­likely to re­of­fend.

St He­lens man­age­ment said Barba was prov­ing a class act.

“He’s very happy with his life­style here and that shows in his foot­ball — the fans love him and we love hav­ing Ben at our club,’’ the spokesper­son said.

When Barba orig­i­nally spoke of his de­sire to one day re­turn to the NRL, his pre­vi­ous club Cronulla was con­sid­ered the ob­vi­ous fit for the premier­ship win­ner — who scored a try in the Sharks’ 2016 grand fi­nal win over Mel­bourne.

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