Canterbury captain-in-waiting Michael Ennis believes the time is right for team-mate Ben Barba to explode onto the representative stage – starting with his inclusion in the Indigenous All Stars’ side to meet the NRL All Stars on the Gold Coast in February.
Twenty-two-year-old Barba is one of Ennis’ five top selections for the annual rugby league showcase that will usher in the 2012 NRL season, bracketed with superstars Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis, and dominant talents Chris Sandow and Jamal Idris.
But forcing his way into the starting line-up in the prized no.1 jersey would mean sweeping aside Cowboy Matthew Bowen, who has been the benchmark broken-play runner of football in the NRL for the past half dozen years, and who is also the incumbent Indigenous All Stars custodian.
“Matty Bowen has been a great player for a long time – but Benny is the new kid on the block and he has got all the tricks,” Ennis told NRL.com. “I just think he is an excitement machine every time he touches the ball, and I think with guys like Johnathan Thurston and the like, Benny will have a field day off them.
“Benny had a great season and he certainly turned on some wonderful football for the fans … no doubt he’ll certainly be a part of the Indigenous All Stars side – he is a super talent and I thought he did a really good job in the game last year. It’s exciting times for Benny.”
Ennis endorsed Parramatta recruit Chris Sandow ahead of Dragon Jamie Soward and Titan Scott Prince in the keenly contested battle for halfback, and said Rabbitoh Greg Inglis’ likely inclusion would add another dimension to what has quickly established itself as one of the most anticipated fixtures on the rugby league calendar.
“Chrissy Sandow certainly had a great season last year. He is obviously a very proud Aboriginal, he’s full of excitement too, and it would be good to see him in a big game like that.
“Greg [Inglis] is a first-class player, he’d be a huge addition to any side, but certainly he’d lift another gear with his cultural background … I think he’d add a lot, especially a lot of confidence to their side. He’d be a massive boost for them.
Asked for his five top selections, Ennis replied: “Wow ... I’d have Benny Barba, probably big Jamal [Idris] and Johnathan Thurston, probably Chrissy Sandow and you couldn’t leave out Greg Inglis.”
Ennis said he was hopeful of participating again next year having been involved in 2011.
“It’s a wonderful week to raise all the awareness for the Indigenous kids and we had a great time last year with all the promotions around it,” he said. “Then at the end you get to play a huge game … to play in a side with the players that were on our side was a dream come true for me, just to spend the week with them. It was a great week and it would certainly be something that I would love to be a part of again.
“I think it is a concept that is really going to grow – as good as the Gold Coast is for it, I wouldn’t be surprised if it has to move to a bigger venue just to accommodate the people. I would love to see it either at Suncorp or possibly down here at ANZ [Stadium].
“I think we’d get a really huge crowd – it’s not too often you get to see so many good players on one field. I think it is a great concept and certainly something that the NRL needs to stick with.”
As for who would get the nod to succeed Darren Lockyer as captain of the NRL All Stars, Ennis believes the honour will fall to either Cameron Smith or Paul Gallen.
“You would imagine it would be one of those two guys … they are proven leaders and I would certainly say it would be out of those two.”
His message to fans as the November 28 closing date for voting for the Indigenous All Stars team looms?
“Get there (on NRL.com), vote for Benny, he is a super talent and it would be great to see him back in the Indigenous side again – and don’t leave me out of the NRL All Stars side!”
Voting for the NRL All Stars team commences December 1.
Click here to vote for the Indigenous All Stars team