The twinkle is back in Ben Barba’s eye, Laurie Daley says, and the man himself reckons he is poised to return to the brilliant form that propelled him to NRL superstardom three years ago.
Barba’s promising pre-season continued with a terrific display for the Indigenous All Stars in their 12-8 loss to the World All Stars on Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium.
Playing at five-eighth, Barba started slowly but set up numerous opportunities once he began injecting himself into play more directly.
He could have even put his name on the scoresheet were it not for a poor decision to kick by his Cronulla teammate, Wade Graham, instead of looking to him on the inside as the pair broke away in attack late in the match.
The 26-year-old, who won the Dally M award in 2012 after starting that year with a three-try showing in the Indigenous All Stars clash, won praise from his coach Laurie Daley, saying he looked “real sharp”.
“It’s good to see, he’s got that smile and that twinkle back in his eye,” Daley said.
“Hopefully he’ll be able to nail out a position at the Sharks, he’s definitely good enough to be in their run-on side.”
Asked if, on the back of his star turn for the Indigenous side and his eye-catching run at the Auckland Nines, it felt like the old Ben Barba was back, Barba said “It does a little bit.”
“I’ve had a really good off-season and pre-season, I really knuckled down and got through it unscathed without any injuries or mishaps.
“I was able to really rip into my training and get myself right and get my head straight, being able to concentrate on my football.”
Barba said Saturday night’s match was everything he expected from his first proper hitout in a 13-a-side game.
“It was pretty fast. I was always going to struggle a bit with the first game and the lungs, trying to adapt,” he said.
“I’m sort of mixed emotions on how I played. I’d feel a lot better if we won but in saying that, I still think there’s always room for me to keep getting better.”
Barba will now turn his attention to Cronulla’s trial next week against the Wests Tigers, and his mission to re-establish himself as a starter with the Sharks after falling badly out of favour in 2015.