From the outside looking in, Michael Ennis admits teammate Ben Barba hasn’t exactly silenced his critics at Cronulla.
But the Sharks hooker said a quick glance at Barba in the Indigenous All Stars camp this week had convinced him the fallen star was ready to shine again in 2016.
There was speculation 2012 Dally M Medallist may struggle to crack Cronulla’s starting side this year with young guns Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes vying for his preferred fullback spot.
Barba struggled to nail down the No.1 jersey upon his arrival at Cronulla in 2015, finishing the year on the Sharks bench.
But Ennis defended Barba’s form, revealing the full extent with which his teammate struggled with injuries.
“At the end of the day we are judged on our performances,” World All Stars hooker Ennis said ahead of Saturday night’s showcase event against Barba’s Indigenous team in Brisbane.
“(But) a lot of people were quick to judge Ben on form.
“The guy had spent an entire summer at five-eighth and had moved from another club (Brisbane) and carried a rib and ankle injury for most of the season which not everyone knew about.”
A question mark has been over Barba’s form since he battled personal issues in 2013, prompting him to be released by the Bulldogs on compassionate leave before a lacklustre Brisbane stint.
Ennis said Barba had emerged a new man in the Sharks pre-season – a point he expected the Cronulla flyer to ram home in the All Stars clash at Suncorp Stadium.
And Ennis said the glimpses he had caught from his World All Stars camp confirmed his suspicion that fans would again see the Barba of old in 2016.
“He has had a terrific summer, as good as I have seen from him,” he said.
“And it’s been a smooth summer injury-wise. He spent the whole time back at fullback which he enjoys and excels in.
“I have seen him around this week and the confidence in him is really starting to grow.”
Ennis tipped 26-year-old Barba to keep young guns Holmes and Bird honest in the battle for the Sharks No.1 jersey.
“The (pre-season) trial period will actually be that for us,” he said.
“The positive thing is that somehow Flanno (coach Shane Flanagan) has to fit those three blokes into our team.
“We will be a faster, stronger team with all three in there.”