MVPs of 2014: Ben Barba
As we count down to season 2014, NRL.com identifies 30 players who will be crucial to their team's fortunes this year. From new faces to rising stars to proven performers who will need to lift this season, these are our 'MVPs' for 2014.
Only a handful of fullbacks in the history of the game have played in such a way that fans came to expect the seemingly impossible as a matter of course.
In 1994 Brett Mullins scored a hat-trick for the Raiders against the Sharks and then backed that up with four tries in consecutive weeks against the Knights and Rabbitohs; that's right, 11 tries in three games.
No one who witnessed it will ever forget the run of form Jarryd Hayne displayed in the Eels' fairytale run to the Grand Final in 2009, and in 2012 Ben Barba made length-of-the-field tries seem ridiculously commonplace.
Every time he fielded a kick inside his own in-goal Bulldogs fans would sit up straighter while opposition supporters looked at their advancing defensive line wondering if they had enough troops to stop the 174-centimetre, 90-kilogram dynamo.
For an entire season no one at a Bulldogs game turned away for even a second for fear of missing 'the moment'. But just as quickly as we lauded him as the best in the game, he was taken from us by a club-imposed suspension just hours before he was due to launch the 2013 season.
He missed the first three games of the season and although he scored 10 tries in 17 games – including back-to-back doubles in rounds 13 and 14 – he never displayed the type of freedom that brought the game to life 12 months earlier.
And even when he stepped his way through a shoddy Parramatta defence in Round 20, a sprained ankle in the act of scoring sidelined him for the following five games and took the steam out of the Bulldogs' premiership aspirations.
Which brings us to 2014.
Barba has moved to Brisbane to be close to his two daughters and has a city of passionate league fans holding their breath that the club they love has recruited one of the game's most exhilarating talents and not a distracted star still in search of his confidence.
Following ankle surgery in the off-season he may wish to slip into the side without fanfare but the Broncos need Barba to bring a new dimension to their attack from the very first week of the premiership.
Despite ranking sixth for total run metres per game in 2013, the Broncos were 13th in both points scored and try assists and with an untried halves pairing still yet to be finalised, the influence of Barba on their attack will need to be immediate and significant.
Barba is the big ticket item in something of an unprecedented recruitment drive at the Broncos and one of a raft of changes made by coach Anthony Griffin in an attempt to restore Brisbane's position as one of the premier clubs in the competition.
Teammates have already spoken glowingly of the influence Barba is having on the playing group and if he can win over fans with some trademark scintillating runs in the early rounds, the 24-year-old will not only resurrect his own career but also the fortunes of the most successful club of the past 25 years.