Ben Barba of the Sharks salutes the crowd after their NRL grand final win.
Ben Barba of the Sharks salutes the crowd after their NRL grand final win. DAVID MOIR

Johns backs Barba to return to game

RUGBY LEAGUE: Disgraced Sharks star Ben Barba is certain to be given yet another lifeline by an NRL club, says former great Matthew Johns.

And that club could yet be Cronulla, which has reportedly held talks about re-signing the star fullback on a reduced deal of just $300,000 for the 2017 season - less than half his previous $650,000 salary.

The Sharks tore up his current contract earlier this week after he was found to have tested positive for cocaine four days after their drought-breaking grand final win last month. It was his second strike for an illicit drug.

The 27-year-old, who checked into a rehab facility in Thailand, is facing a 12-match ban from playing in the NRL if and when the game's administrators rubber-stamp the next contract he signs.

"He will need to go to the NRL to basically state his case like Kieran Foran did to be reinstated to the NRL before he is able to be picked up by another NRL club,” Johns told Triple M radio yesterday.

"Let me tell you something, there's not that many great players going around that someone won't take a chance on Ben Barba.”

The year after winning the Dally M Medal, Barba was stood down by the Bulldogs in 2013 for behavioural issues before joining the Broncos, where he lasted just one season, with incoming coach Wayne Bennett sending him packing.

"People close to Ben will be more concerned about what it maybe symbolises for Ben,” Johns said.

"Benny has been to rehab before. He's been there for anger issues and for gambling problems. Whenever something like this happens there is always underlying issues.

"He's had his life off the rails before when people close to him have really feared for his own safety.

"One thing about this place where they go for treatment in Thailand, a lot of Australian celebrities have gone there, including some footballers. All of them have come back with a greater sense of control over their own lives.

"There's some things that are more important than making tackles and scoring tries. That's a person's well-being. Hopefully Benny will come back with that greater sense of control and will be on top of his life.”

NRL head of integrity Nick Weeks said the league would offer support to Barba, a father of three, and his family.

"The league will continue to extend support to Ben Barba but this should serve as a warning to all players of one of the potential consequences of using illicit drugs,” Weeks said in a statement.

Former Dragon Jason Donnelly, meanwhile, told media yesterday that "cocaine is everywhere after grand finals”.

The New Zealand international, who was a part of premiership deciders in 1992 and 1993, said "I'm not casting judgment ... it's just reality”.


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