Barba close to his best
Three years after his whirlwind climb to the top of rugby league's ranks spiralled out of control, Ben Barba says he is finally in position again to recapture the form that made him the poster boy for the NRL.
On the back of his Dally M Medal-winning season of 2012 Barba scored three tries and was named man of the match in the 2013 All Stars game but two weeks later was stood down by the Bulldogs for behavioural issues and breaking the club's code of conduct.
His personal life became newspaper fodder and by the end of the season he had requested a release from Canterbury to join the Broncos and reunite with his young family.
He hasn't been the same player since those heady days but both Indigenous All Stars coach Laurie Daley and captain Greg Inglis say they have seen signs this past week that the Barba brilliance is on its way back.
By his own admission quiet in the first quarter on Saturday night, Barba grew into the game and twice looked to have set up try-scoring opportunities for his team in the second half.
The first was skipping to the outside of the World All Stars defence before unleashing a superb cut-out pass to winger Jack Wighton, the second a deft pass to Sharks teammate Wade Graham who busted through into the back-field.
As it did at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines the week prior, his trimmed-down frame made Barba look lighter on his feet but he admits that getting his confidence back remains a work in progress.
"That's something I've really worked hard on this year, getting the body right and believing in myself," Barba told NRL.com.
"There were a few years there where I was questioning myself and second-guessing myself and my ability to play in this game.
"That's something I really worked hard on with the training staff at Cronulla, getting my fitness levels right and really knuckling down at training and the rest would come on the back of that.
"It's really helped me to get through the pre-season without any injuries and focusing on the training and the mental side of it is going in the right way."
The 2016 Harvey Norman All Stars was the fifth time Daley has had Barba in camp with the Indigenous team and said that the signs were definitely positive that one of the most entertaining players in the game is back near his best.
"He looks sharp, he looks real sharp Benny," Daley said.
"It's good to see he's got that smile and that twinkle back in his eye, hopefully he'll be able to nail down a position at the Sharks. He's definitely good enough to be in their run-on side.
"It's always good to have Benny in camp, he's a good kid and he works really hard and he was terrific again for us tonight."
Added Inglis: "He's walking around and he's got that twinkle in his eye again and you can see the brilliance that he had at the Nines and again here tonight.
"He's getting back to his best and I'm just glad that he's sorted all his issues out and that comes with maturity too."
Barba himself acknowledges that three years is a long time in rugby league but says a week in All Stars camp has again been good for his soul.
"It does feel a long time ago, it's amazing how fast these years go," Barba said of his heroics in 2013.
"When you think back, I think I was only 23 and I'm turning 27 this year. It was a long time ago but I'm enjoying my football now and hopefully I can get my smile back on my face like I did a few years ago.
"I know we do a lot with the kids and the community but for me [the highlight] is always coming in the first day in camp and seeing these guys that you don't get to play with and you only see one week a year, all these guys that I'm really close with.
"Obviously we all play for different sides but when we all come together it's like they're my brothers. I've got five brothers but this week I've got 20 more.
"It's an unbelievable week. It's a chance for us to get to know each other a little bit more and being out in the community.
"It's walking around and seeing all these kids, the people in the stands and the smiles on their faces when we go over and shake their hands and get a photo... It's an unreal experience."