Barba changing with the times
While there will always be comparisons to the form he displayed in his 2012 Dally M Medal-winning season, nobody can argue that four years on Sharks fullback Ben Barba has turned his career around.
Not even 12 months ago would you have thought of Barba as a leader of the Cronulla Sharks, but that changed on Sunday afternoon.
The Sharks' 13th straight win was sparked by a first-half Barba brace of tries before he sent over Mitch Brown for his side's third four-pointer on the way to a 26-16 win over the Panthers.
Making the Sharks' extraordinary streak even more amazing was the fact they did it without New South Wales Origin quintet Wade Graham, Paul Gallen, Jack Bird, Andrew Fifita and James Maloney.
With those stars away more responsibility fell on Barba, who exceeded expectations with a stunning individual performance featuring seven tackle breaks and three line breaks.
"I'm a little bit smarter now. I try to use that to the best of my ability in terms of picking my times when to run," Barba said.
"I'm using the other guys at the back better too: (wingers Sosaia) Feki and Val (Holmes). The more I can use them to cart the ball back into the line, I guess I'm thankful for them.
"They allow me to do my stuff in attack. That's been the big difference for me this year; that I'm a lot smarter and a lot wiser."
With club debutants Matt McIlwrick, Jesse Sene-Lefao and NRL debutant Kurt Capewell coming into the side this week Barba said he tried to take his seniority to another level against the Panthers.
"I didn't say too much during the week but I thought with some of the older boys out this week there was a chance there for me to rev the boys up there a little bit," Barba said.
"I really tried to take a leadership role there with some of the guys out.
"On the Tuesday when the others boys came into training and were told they were playing, the belief and the excitement was always there from the moment we all came together."
Barba admits there is still more room to improve in the ever-changing fullback role, and that his next mission was to match the elite custodians in defence.
"The game is changing with fullbacks I think with them standing in the line at times and helping out in defence. Darius (Boyd) up in Brisbane is the best at it currently," Barba said.
"He's someone I've been watching closely and working on. To see how much he helps with that extra number in the line, but also being able to get out and cover kicks, goes to show that the fullback role is changing."