Cronulla star Ben Barba admits he took it upon himself to step up in the absence of the club’s State of Origin stars in Sunday’s NRL win over Penrith.
NSW Origin quintet James Maloney, Jack Bird, Wade Graham, Andrew Fifita and skipper Paul Gallen are all in camp ahead of Wednesday’s game three, but that didn’t stop the Sharks securing their 13th win in a row.
And Barba played a major role in the win, scoring two tries to take his season tally to 11 – the most since his Dally M medal-winning season in 2012.
The 27-year-old said he had a major shift in mindset before the clash against the Panthers.
“I didn’t say too much during the week but I thought with some of the older boys out this week there was a chance there for me to rev the boys up there a little bit,” Barba said.
“I really tried to take a leadership role there with some of the guys out. It was a really special win. I’m glad I took the chances when I did.”
Twice the former Canterbury dynamo showed his trademark acceleration to blast the Panthers for back-to-back tries in the first half that helped set up the victory.
However Barba said he hadn’t returned to his top speed, revealing both Valentine Holmes and Sosaia Feki had covered him for pace at the club.
He conceded he might never reach the same speed that catapulted him into stardom all those years ago.
“All that stuff was four or five seasons ago so I’m never going to be quick as I was,” he said.
“But I guess I’m a little bit smarter now. I try to use that to the best of my ability in terms of picking my times when to run.
“I’m using the other guys at the back (Sosaia Feki and Valentine Holmes) better too.
“The more I can use them to cart the ball back into the line, I’m thankful for them because they allow me to do my stuff in attack.
“That’s been the big difference for me this year – I’m a lot smarter and a lot wiser.”