Ben Barba locks in his long-term future
BEN Barba has signed another long-term deal that puts an NRL return on the backburner, linking with English Super League club St Helens until the end of 2019.
The 27-year-old and his management had explored NRL options after his sensational exit from a $2.5 million deal with French rugby giants Toulon, but with Australian outfits wary of the enigmatic star he will now return to the 13-man game in the UK.
St Helens have trumped rivals Warrington after negotiations gathered steam at last weekend's Magic Weekend, and the English heavyweights will now seek "further clarification" around Barba's 12-match drug suspension imposed by the NRL.
The RFL has previously indicated that Barba's mandatory three-month suspension - for a second positive test for cocaine in the wake of Cronulla's 2016 grand final win - will be enforced by the English game.
But in announcing Barba's signing, St Helens' official club statement said: "The initial stance of the RFL is that this (ban) also applies to Super League.
"However, St Helens will be seeking further and final clarification of this position."
There have been suggestions the NRL would only view Barba's ban as being served once he returns to Australia.
However the governing body has said it will recognise Barba being sidelined in Super League as punishment enough, though any reduction by the RFL could affect that stance.
Any prospect of Barba seeing out his suspension with St Helens before seeking a release to return Down Under would seem unlikely, given he recently moved his four daughters and partner Ainslie across to the UK.
Leeds Rhinos also made a point of principle in their recent legal stoush with Sharks recruit James Segeyaro, demanding a $400,000 transfer fee when the hooker attempted to walk away from the final two years of his Super League contract.
Segeyaro was only released after a reduced fee was agreed between Cronulla and the Rhinos, with both governing bodies and the RLPA needed to help mediate that messy contract saga.
Should Barba's 12-match ban be enforced it would rule him out of the rest of St Helens' 2017 season, where the traditional powerhouse is currently five points adrift of the top four, Super League's finals cut-off.
Despite ongoing off-field issues that saw the Dally M 2012 winner bounced from Canterbury, Brisbane and Cronulla in the NRL, Barba's signing is being hailed as a coup for rugby league in the UK.
New St Helens coach Justin Holbrook worked with Barba during his time as a Bulldogs assistant coach, and is confident he can get the best out of the livewire fullback.
"I've known Ben for some time and am confident that he will add a new dimension to the Saints and is a great capture for Super League," Holbrook said.
"He is a multi-talented and world-class rugby league player.
"It is not often that players of his calibre become available and the club has pulled out all the stops to fight off competition from both rugby codes around the world."
Having met with prospective clubs across the Magic Weekend, Barba declared his relief at having finally sorted his future.
"I feel very privileged to be joining such a historic rugby league club as St Helens," Barba said.
"I was able to meet up with some of the players and key people from the club at the Magic Weekend and know they are a great set of people. The fans also showed me just how passionate they are.
"I wanted to make an early decision so that I can get my family settled in England and kids enrolled at school."