Even Ben Barba said he might never reach his stellar best form again.
But new Queensland coach Kevin Walters believes the Cronulla fullback is now the closest he’s been to reproducing that sizzling play that earned him the Dally M Medal in 2012.
And it could earn him a Maroons State of Origin debut, with Walters on Tuesday naming Barba one of three contenders to replace injured fullback Billy Slater this season.
Greg Inglis remains the frontrunner, with Darius Boyd also a strong option, however Barba’s early-season NRL form has put him in contention.
“He (Barba) is back to somewhere near what he was showing in 2012,” said Walters.
“Obviously he’s been involved in our different emerging programs over the years. Selectors are certainly aware of Ben’s talents.
“It was a good performance from him again (against Melbourne on Monday), so that’s good signs from him and good signs for Queensland as well.”
So impressed has Walters been with Barba’s opening month that the former Canterbury star could also be in contention to oust 2015 supersub and North Queensland grand final hero Michael Morgan from the bench.
Morgan played all three games in last year’s series, replacing previous utility Daly Cherry-Evans.
“(Barba’s) got the x-factor when he comes into those sorts of games. It’s worked well for Queensland in the past to have someone of his calibre on the bench,” Walters said.
“Michael Morgan’s done a terrific job there for Queensland over the past couple of years. It depends on who’s available for June 1. We’re still several weeks away from that.”
The Maroons are well-served for fullback candidates across the NRL, with Inglis, Boyd, Dane Gagai and Barba all currently wearing the No.1 for their respective clubs.
However skipper Cameron Smith said Inglis deserved first crack in an Origin positional shift from centre to No.1.
“I think going off game three last year, you’d have to consider Greg to be the fullback,” he said.
“Given Greg’s playing fullback for his club each week and he’s been quite outstanding when he’s played there for us in the past, you’d lean towards Greg being our fullback at this stage.”
Queensland name their side for game one after round 11.