BEN BARBA is like a caged tiger dying to be released.
The full-back copped a 12-match ban after testing positive for cocaine in an out of competition sample, just after lifting the NRL title with Cronulla.
Since then, he signed on with French rugby union club Toulon before linking up with St Helens, but has had to wait and serve the suspension he received on the other side of the world.
Saints attempted to get it overturned but the 28-year-old was forced to kick his heels before becoming the English competition’s most exciting capture in years.
Now as his first game approaches, Barba has spoken for the first time about how the furore has changed him and how he can put things right in the only way he knows how, on the pitch and focusing on his family.
Barba said: “I understand things a little bit better. I guess I’ve learned how easy things were when I was back in Australia and it’s one of those things, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
“I’ve made mistakes and this is how I can make up for it really, by playing good football and being there for my family.
“It was definitely tough early on and I wasn’t too sure what was going to happen or whether I was going to play the game again or what I was doing to do.
“Then the gig at Toulon came along and I would’ve liked my rugby career to have worked out better and got a few more games. But it wasn’t for me, I was just really happy that St Helens gave me a shot and got me back into the game I enjoy.
“It’s been 10 months between rugby league games, so it’s going to feel like I’m starting all over again.
“The 12 games seemed quite a long time but it feels now it has passed quickly and I can get back to playing footy again, the longest part has been the past few weeks as my first game is approaching have seem to take longer
“And I’m ready for the hype. I guess that comes with what I’ve done in my career. I struggled with that when I was younger but now I’m older and I’ve seen what it’s like to be the centre of media attention, now I know what I have to do to perform at my best.”
Barba is ready to go after Saints’ 16-14 loss at Leeds, but the small matter of the Challenge Cup Final means he must wait another week for his debut, which will come on September 1 against of all teams, great rivals Wigan.
However, he already knows some of St Helens’ biggest ever names in assistant coaches Paul Wellens and Sean Long, who shared tales of one of his former team-mates, James Graham.
Barba added: “Even when I was a kid, I watched all the games, even the English ones. I remember watching the likes of Sean and Paul and how good they were as players.
“We shared tales about James Graham, who used to play at St Helens and who I played with at Canterbury. They broke the ice when I arrived, but not many tales of James at St Helens are printable or repeatable!”
Barba has not even taken to the field yet but he knows how much is expected of him, an encounter with young fans in a shop taught him that.
The full-back, who admits he would have stayed at Cronulla had the NRL accepted and registered the contract he signed with them, said: “I went shopping the other day and I saw two kids walking around in St Helens shirts with my name and number on the back.
“In Australia, we don’t really have the names on the back of shirts and my daughters can read now, so they were wanting to know why they had our name on their shirts! That makes me look forward even more to getting out there and playing.
“Just being around the town showed me how important the club is to the town. Team-wise, the thing that hit me is how hard everyone works.
“There was quite a change with Justin Holbrook coming in as coach and the way the players were able to adapt, as well as staying in control and believing in what he wanted to do impressed me – and the way we’ve been playing makes it a great side to be a part of.”
St Helens coach Holbrook confirmed he is ready to throw Barba straight into his side.
He said: “Ben will definitely come into contention to play now. He’s been training really well for a while.
“He’s a quality player and it will be good to get him out there, that’s for sure.”
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