'We didn't know': Ben Barba makes secret return to rugby league

Sam Goodwin
·Sports Editor
·3-min read
Ben Barba, pictured here playing in the National Indigenous Rugby League Championships.
Ben Barba returned to rugby league in the National Indigenous Rugby League Championships. Image: AAP/NIRL

Ben Barba made his return to rugby league over the weekend despite a lifetime ban from the NRL.

The disgraced former Cronulla Sharks star may not be allowed to play in NRL-affiliated competitions ever again, but the league was powerless to stop him from participating in the National Indigenous Rugby League Championships in Dubbo.

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NRL CEO Andrew Abdo told the Daily Telegraph they didn’t know Barba would be playing in the Indigenous comp, but couldn’t do anything to stop him.

“It’s not funded or sanctioned by the NRL so we have no jurisdiction over it. Anyone is free to play,” Abdo said.

“In future years we might be able to work more collaboratively with them.

“The Barba situation isn’t ideal. If we’re going to work together in the future, it would be helpful (if they respected our rules).

“We didn’t know he was playing.”

Barba has been playing Aussie Rules football in Mackay this year after being banned by the NRL over allegations of domestic abuse.

Barba hoping to resurrect rugby league career

In August, Barba escaped a conviction for assaulting his brother-in-law, but not before a brutal spray from a magistrate.

The 2012 Dally M medallist pleaded guilty in Mackay Magistrates Court to assaulting Adrian Currie - brother of partner Ainslie - and breaching his bail conditions.

Barba punched Mr Currie after his brother-in-law called him a “woman basher” while at a pub in February.

Defence lawyer Campbell MacCallum said Barba was “deeply remorseful” for his actions.

“He has taken steps to turn his life around. He has been working full-time and spending a lot of time with his family,” Mr MacCallum told AAP.

“He is determined to kickstart his rugby league career. He is stoked with the result.”

Magistrate James Morton ordered Barba to pay $1500 in fines and $1000 in compensation, but no criminal conviction was recorded.

That decision was a lifeline for the disgraced NRL star who hopes to ink a deal to play rugby league in Spain with the Valencia Huracanes in 2021.

Ben Barba, pictured here training with the Cowboys before he was sacked by the NRL.
Ben Barba was sacked by the NRL before he played a game for the Cowboys. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

“It will allow him a potential career in Spain playing rugby league,” his lawyer said.

“He has been playing AFL locally, but would love to return to rugby league.”

Despite the lifeline, magistrate Morton didn’t miss when addressing Barba’s plight.

“You’ve gone from the penthouse to the sh*thouse in a blink of an eye,” Mr Morton said.

“You had everything given to you and you threw it away.”

Barba has had a troubled playing career after testing positive to cocaine and being suspended by the NRL in 2016.

He was given a chance to return to the NRL with the North Queensland Cowboys in 2019 after stints with French rugby union and the English Super League.

However, Barba was sacked by the Cowboys without playing a game over allegations he was violent towards partner Ainslie Currie in an incident on Australia Day before the start of the season.

Ms Currie did not press charges but the NRL gave the father of four a lifetime ban after viewing CCTV footage of the incident.

with AAP

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