Ben Barba has backed himself to be wearing the No.1 jersey for North Queensland at the start of their 2019 campaign despite rumours the club is chasing Cronulla fullback Valentine Holmes.
The newly signed Cowboy got his first taste of life in North Queensland on Monday as they begun their pre-season training, with Barba determined to make the most of his NRL lifeline.
Barba wants to be the ‘first picked’ fullback for Round 1 and admitted he cannot afford to be distracted by the ongoing rumours the Cowboys are heavily pursuing Holmes for next season.
The 29-year-old signed a one-year deal with North Queensland which will see him return to the NRL for the first time since copping a 12-week ban for a second positive test for an illicit substance following the Sharks 2016 premiership win.
Speaking with the media following Monday’s training season, Barba said the 2019 NRL premiership season is everything to him.
“When I left last time I thought I was done for,” Barba said.
“I didn’t expect to ever be back. I thought I would spend the rest of my career in England.”
Barba is confident he has learnt a lot and grown as a player due to his stint overseas in the English Super League after copping that ban in 2016.
When asked how he has changed since then, Barba responded:
“Hopefully a bit wiser than I was before,” Barba said.
“It is no secret that my career has been a very rocky one.
“I have made some stupid decisions in my life. I know now this is my last chance.
“I have to knuckle down. Hopefully I have a few more years left in the game.”
The rumours regarding Holmes signing with the Cowboys continue to get stronger and gain traction, although Barba says he remains unfazed by all the talk.
“I see myself as a fullback. No one said I can come straight in and grab it,” Barba said.
“(And) it is going to be hard (if Holmes arrives). I am not 22 any more – I am 30 next year.
“And everyone wants the new guy coming through. If they chase him, they chase him – it’s no harm to me.
“I am all about letting my footy do the talking in 2019.”
The former Dally M medalist is full of confidence after finishing off a stellar two-year career playing with St Helens, and claiming the Man of Steel Award- the Super Leagues equivalent to the Dally M.
Barba says signing a one-year contract is scary but isn’t taking anything for granted as he eyes of a comeback to the NRL.
“It can be (nerve wracking). But I see myself in a privileged position to come back in a side like this,” Barba said.
“I went alright overseas but this is a totally different league. NRL is that step higher.
“I just have to find that again, how I was playing in 2016 for Cronulla.
“If they want to keep me, it’s up to them. I am just lucky to be back in an NRL system.”