The Curious Case of Benjamin Barba

It is The Curious Case of Benjamin Barba.

Just what will Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan do with his star off season recruit when he returns from an NRL suspension this week?

Boom rookie Jack Bird starred in Barba’s five-eighth spot in the Sharks’ upset of Sydney Roosters on Sunday, with the former Dally M medal winner sitting out the second of his two-game ban.

Bird made his NRL debut from the bench in the Sharks round four loss to Gold Coast the week before and after that game Flanagan said the 20-year-old would be part of his side for “weeks to come”.

The junior Kangaroo and NSW Under20s star steered Cronulla to their first win in 11 matches, stretching back to July last year, with a man-of-the-match effort at Allianz Stadium against the Tricolours.

Flanagan is likely to leave Bird in the Sharks’ halves alongside Jeff Robson for Friday night’s match with Newcastle, given the youngster’s breakthrough effort against the Roosters and Barba’s struggles in the frontline playmaking role.

“When we put Birdy there, I knew he’d play well. I want that selection headache. That’s the challenge for me and I’m really happy to have it,” Flanagan said.

Young gun Valentine Holmes alternated successfully with Michael Gordon in the fullback role against the Roosters and again Flanagan is unlikely to mess with that to open up a slot for Barba.

Hence his conundrum.

Barba could be used off the bench as a supersub. But a four forward interchange rotation worked well for Flanagan on Sunday as the Sharks pack outmuscled the Roosters.

And the home side’s forward pack will need to be at their best again at Remondis Stadium against a Knights’ pack rated as one of the toughest in the NRL.

Which all could leave Barba, one of the Sharks highest paid players, running out for Cronulla’s feeder club the Newtown Jets against North Sydney Bears at North Sydney Oval on Sunday in the NSW Cup.

But Flanagan claims he has guaranteed Barba a spot in his 17 to face the Knights. However he says he will keep everyone guessing where the former Canterbury and Brisbane star will play until he is required to name his team an hour before the 7.30pm kickoff.

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