Cronulla superstar Ben Barba credits a happy – and hectic – home life and the Sharks brotherhood for his spectacular return to his breathtaking best.
Two years after being shown the door at Brisbane as he battled personal demons and fought to save his NRL career, Barba is on track to join some of rugby league’s all-time greats as a dual Dally M Medallist.
And the born-again 27-year-old says he owes it all to family, Sharks teammates, coach Shane Flanagan and his able assistants Steve Price and James Shepherd.
Above all, Barba says his four young daughters Bodhi, 7, Bronte, 5, 20-month-old Blaise and baby Bobbi, just seven weeks, makes life on and off the field simply a joy.
“Having the four little girls now, it’s enjoyable and they keep a smile on my face,” Barba told AAP ahead of Cronulla’s big clash with Canberra on Saturday.
The electrifying fullback is happy to sleep “out on the lounge” to get the required rest to train the house down as he helps steer the Sharks to their first minor premiership in 17 years.
Barba was right in the mix, just five points shy of the Dally M leaders before polling went behind closed doors after round 16.
The 2012 winner is certain to have polled heavily in starring roles in Cronulla’s four victories since before his two-try hand in Monday night’s 18-all draw with Gold Coast.
Jarryd Hayne, Cliff Lyons, Mick Potter, Peter Sterling, Cronulla great Gavin Miller, Andrew Johns and four-time recipient Johnathan Thurston are the only players to have landed multiple medals.
“Obviously winning one was pretty special,” Barba said.
“But it’s a bit like the season and the old cliche: there’s a long way to go.
“Look, I know I’ve got to keep performing from here on in.
“There’s five more games we’ve got some tough teams to play and I’ll take it each week and hopefully I can put in my best performances on the field at the right times and we go into the finals series flying.”
Barba is already flying.
In the last four rounds, he is the NRL’s top try scorer (four), leads the league for try assists (eight) and line-break assists (nine), has busted the third most tackles (20) and is fourth for linebreaks (four).
“It’s just down to hard work, putting in the effort with my teammates,” he said.
“It’s not just myself but everyone. When everyone’s working that little bit harder, the environment’s good and you win footy games.
“And obviously it’s a lot better this year. Starting at fullback and being settled after a year down here has helped me a lot.
“I keep going back to my teammates and the coaches at the club for pushing me along and challenging me and allowing me to enjoy my football, which has got me back into the right head space to be playing good football again.”