A rejuvenated Ben Barba has declared himself ready to fill Michael Morgan’s shoes and make his long-awaited State of Origin debut.
The Cronulla fullback is seemingly locked in a two-way battle with good mate Daly Cherry-Evans for the Queensland utility bench spot after Morgan succumbed to a knee injury that is set to sideline him for a month.
While coach Kevin Walters may choose to fill the No.14 jumper with a forward, such as Ethan Lowe or Gavin Cooper, Manly halfback Cherry-Evans and Barba are the lead contenders should he go with a like-for-like replacement.
Cherry-Evans seemingly has the inside running, after being drafted into camp as cover for Cooper Cronk during Origin I, but the Sea Eagles pivot is coming off an ankle injury and is due back against North Queensland on Monday night after a three-week layoff.
Earlier in the season, coach Kevin Walters spoke highly of Barba and threw his name up as a possible bolter for the Maroons No.1 position following Billy Slater’s season-ending shoulder injury.
Barba was first touted as an Origin representative during his Dally M year in 2012, and the Mackay product said he felt ready to fulfil his childhood dream.
“I’d like to think I’m in the frame, but, at the end of the day, it’s always going to be (the selectors’) decision,” Barba told AAP.
“They’ve got guys like Daly and that they’ve tossed up there, but I’d like to think I’m there or thereabouts. I’ve played well enough to have me in their thoughts.
“I’ve got another game next week and I can really get them talking. It’s my dream to one day wear that jersey and I’ve got to keep working hard.”
Barba has enjoyed a renaissance under Sharks coach Shane Flanagan and was typically classy in their golden-point 19-18 win over Warriors on Saturday, however, his night was marred when he dropped the ball with the tryline begging.
After halfback Chad Townsend burst through the middle of the field, Barba loomed in support, but put it down when the ball was thrown his way, almost costing his side victory.
“I can joke about it now because we won, I’d be feeling a lot worse if we didn’t get home,” Barba said.
“I think at the last moment I took my eyes off Chaddy and had a look to see if anyone was coming and by the time I looked back Chaddy had given it to me.”