Playing fullback Barba's No.1 motivation
After playing a starring role in Cronulla's 14-6 win over the Storm on Monday night, Ben Barba's name has been firmly thrust into the State of Origin mix.
New Queensland Maroons coach Kevin Walters confirmed on Tuesday that he was keeping a close eye on the in-form Sharks fullback, who he says could replace the injured Billy Slater in the No.1 jersey, or come off the bench as an impact player.
Barba says speculation about his representative future was humbling, but admits it's too early to get his hopes up.
"You sort of listen to it, but you can't let it get to you," Barba said.
"Just to have my name tossed in that arena again is pretty uplifting, but in saying that I've got a long way to go yet. It's a long time until then. All I want to do now is keep playing good footy for the Sharks and hopefully keep this consistency up."
Barba had an indifferent 2015, playing 80 minutes on just six occasions for the Sharks. He was moved around from the halves to fullback, and spent plenty of time coming off the bench.
But that has changed in the new year, with Barba excelling in his preferred position at the back, scoring two tries, averaging 102 metres per game and blitzing opposition teams with speed many thought he had lost.
Consistency had been something Barba had struggled with since winning the Dally M Medal in 2012, but having won back the Sharks No.1 jersey on a permanent basis, the 26-year-old is inching closer to career-best form.
The speedster told NRL.com that his improved showings had a lot do with Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, who opted to go with Barba at fullback, despite speculation Jack Bird would get the nod.
"I think me putting in some decent performances is just a way to repay him for giving me the first shot," the Sharks fullback said.
"That allowed me to just focus on my role here at the club knowing that I'm the fullback.
"It allows me to go into the game with a clear head knowing exactly what I've got to do, and I guess it's showing in my football at the moment. In saying that, I've got a lot of great guys in this team who are helping me and make my role a lot easier."
Monday's win was Cronulla's second for the season, and has them in good stead after what had been a tricky first month of the draw.
Barba says it was great to get the two competition points, but admits the win will count for little if the Sharks can't back it up against the Tigers on Saturday.
"I'm happy with the performance, but more importantly I'm happy we got the win," the 26-year-old said.
"You feel really good after these wins, especially against a side that's got probably one of the best hookers and halfbacks to ever lace on a boot.
"That's what it's all about, taking confidence out of the game tonight playing against a Melbourne side that's been so dominant for so long.
"We were able to bounce after last week's loss, but what we've got to do now is build from this and take it into next Saturday."
While the rest of the rugby league world seems to have an opinion on who should play Origin, Barba's coach Shane Flanagan in in no such rush to comment on whether his star fullback should be picked.
"I haven't really thought about that too much. I'm just concentrating on the Cronulla Sharks because Origin is a long way off," he said.
Flanagan added: "He's getting better each week, isn't he? I think his understanding of our halves and our nine is coming together, and that's pleasing to see."