NRL shock: Ben Barba ‘coming home’
RUMOURS are swirling forgotten rugby league star Ben Barba will return to the NRL soon.
The Cronulla premiership player has been in red-hot form for English club St Helens and is the front-runner to take out the Super League's Man of Steel award this year.
The 28-year-old fullback reportedly remains under contract with St Helens through to the end of the 2019 Super League season, however, the former Bulldogs and Broncos star has been linked with a return home to Australia in coming months.
The Australian's Brent Read told Triple M's Rush Hour with Mark Geyer on Thursday night Barba has been freed up to get an early release from St Helens by the club's recruitment of Wests Tigers speedster Kevin Naiqama on a three-year deal.
Naiqama, 29, has reportedly agreed to terms with St Helens and has been dropped from the Tigers' starting 17 the past two rounds.
That signing is the key to allowing Barba to return home, Read said.
"There's lots of rumours around right now about Ben Barba - about whether he's coming home," Read reported.
"If Kevin Naiqama goes to St Helens there could be implications there for Ben Barba. Maybe that is as a replacement for Ben Barba. There are a lot of rumours around right now that Ben Barba is coming home. I know his agent is either about to jump on a plane or is in England as we speak so stay tuned. I wouldn't be surprised if there is some news there in the next few weeks."
He said a return to Cronulla is one of the more likely destinations as the Sharks continue to struggle to find a perfect fit in the No. 1 jumper with Valentine Holmes only moved to fullback after Josh Dugan's foot injury.
Aussie rugby league legend Mark Geyer said Barba would be a smart option for the Wests Tigers with Corey Thompson winning the jumper from Tui Lolohea at the start of the season.
"Cronulla is an obvious one there," Read said.
"He has relationships there. I know it didn't end well for him there, but I don't think he burned his bridges there either.
"There's lots of mail around about the Tigers chasing a fullback with players like (Canterbury's) Moses Mbye and (Cronulla's) Valentine Holmes.
The Sun reports Barba wants to return home for the sake of his family and is prepared to forego big money in the UK.
Barba has been in such impressive form his teammates have made public declarations to take pay cuts if it helps the club hold onto the Australian star.
Teammate Tommy Makinson said Barba is one of the best players in the world right now.
"He's definitely learned, I didn't know Ben until he came to the club but I saw the tries he scored in the NRL and the mistake he made but it's not about the setback, it's about the comeback," Makinson said.
"He was at last Magic Weekend and when you get to know him, you learn the reason why he wanted to join, because he wants to do well. You can see from his performances that he's not here to muck around. A lot of people want to talk about him now because he's one of the best players in the league, if not the world.
"If his agent is here, I'll go and meet him and I'll do anything - he can take half of my 20 quid or whatever it is."
Meanwhile, Penrith star Josh Mansour has rejected interest from a number of rival NRL clubs to re-sign with the Panthers on a three-year deal.
Mansour appeared to be on the way out of the Panthers after being linked to Canterbury and Parramatta, but announced the contract before Thursday night's NRL clash with the Wests Tigers.
"I'm extremely grateful and excited to have committed my future to Panthers. This club has given me everything and shaped me into the person I am today, on and off the field," Mansour said.
"While I had to consider my options, my overwhelming desire was to stay at Panthers, as my heart has always been with this club. I feel I've got unfinished business here."
Mansour, who is in rehabilitation after an ugly facial fracture earlier this season, was part of the Kangaroos' World Cup-winning squad last year. It came after breaking into the NSW State of Origin team in 2016, when he also crowned Dally M winger of the year.
"I want Josh Mansour to be a part of the Panthers for the rest of his life. I can give him no greater accolade," Panthers boss Phil Gould said. Mansour's re-signing leaves captain and hooker Peter Wallace as the only member of the team's first-choice 17 without a contract next season.
- with AAP