No room for Barba at Sharks: Flanagan
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has closed the door on a potential homecoming for Ben Barba, claiming the club has no room in the salary cap for the 2012 Dally M Medal winner.
An integral part of the Sharks' 2016 premiership-winning team, Barba is understood to be finalising a release from English Super League team St Helens, sparking talk that he could return to the Sharks.
Speaking on the eve of his team's crucial road clash with NRL titleholders Melbourne, Flanagan said re-acquiring the 29-year-old was not a possibility because of financial reasons, plus the fact the club has Queensland origin rep Valentine Holmes capably filling the fullback role.
"He's an important player, but at the moment Benny Barba is off the market for us," Flanagan said.
"Originally we were of the understanding that his club wouldn't be letting him go and I know one thing - that money doesn't grow on trees out here in the Shire.
"He's a great player and he's part of the club's history and if we could get him back we'd get him back, but it's not going to be possible with the salary cap and the position we're in at the moment.
"We've decided that we want to invest in Val long-term here at the club and that's bubbling away behind the scenes and hopefully that comes off and Val will be our No.1."
Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary addressed the media on Saturday morning to clarify that he will be honouring his contract at the club and won't be coaching his son Nathan in the near future.
Flanagan, whose son Kyle is part of Cronulla's first grade squad, said it was only natural that father and son would like to be on the same team.
"I can understand Ivan and Nathan's desire to get back together and time will tell I suppose," he said.
"It's probably a little bit different where Kyle is at the moment but I see him playing first grade if not this year, definitely next year.
"I enjoy it. I'd rather him here where I can help him along the way - it's a big job being a halfback in a first-grade squad."
Cronulla will be chasing their first win in three matches when they square off with the Storm on Sunday.
Flanagan said the Sharks expect a typically brutal encounter with their 2016 grand final rivals.
"We don't need too much motivation against Melbourne," he said.
"There always seems to be - whether it was before the grand final or since the grand final - there's always been real healthy respect for the opposition but there's been some pretty heated moments. I'm sure there's going to be two sides ripping in."
The Sharks are still aiming for a top four spot but Flanagan knows its not the end of the world if they don't, as every team in the top eight is a chance of being the 2018 premiers.
"We want to finish top four," Flanagan said.
"It's a big advantage to finish in that top four but in the back of my mind I just want us to start playing for 80 minutes. If we do that we'll get some wins on the way home and we'll be ready for semi finals.
"I think any side in that top eight if they get their act together they're all dangerous.