RUGBY LEAGUE: Exiled fullback Ben Barba says he may never play rugby league again after signing with a French rugby side.
Barba blindsided the Cronulla Sharks on Tuesday when his management revealed that the Dally M winner had signed short-term contract to play for Toulon while he serves his suspension from the NRL.
The league yesterday released a statement saying that 12-week ban for testing positive to illicit drugs late last year would only begin when he had completed his overseas commitments.
Speaking out for the first time since his stint at a Thai rehab facility, Barba dropped yet another bombshell saying he was ready to walk away from the NRL entirely.
"The NRL hasn't given me much, so if it comes to that I might never play the game again,” he said.
"It's probably the first time we've talked since then (receiving his ban) ... I have to look after my kids and my family, they're my first option.
"They (NRL) had quite a while to sort my stuff out but it's taken them three months and nothing has been sorted out ... I'm just going along with the flow and listen to the guys who take care of me.”
Cronulla re-signed Barba last month after initially terminating his contract following the positive test to cocaine. The deal, however, had yet to be ratified by the NRL.
Chief executive Todd Greenberg said the league believed a suspended player should serve time out from playing anywhere.
"Ben does not have a registered contract with the NRL so he is free to make a decision to play in a different code with a new club,” he said.
"But the NRL will not consider any contract for registration until he has completed his contract with other sports.
"The match suspension he needs to serve will only begin after he has completed his playing commitments elsewhere.”
Greenberg said his main concern was whether the appropriate action was being taken to improve Barba's life off the field.
"We have been working closely with the Sharks on ensuring he has access to appropriate courses and programs as part of his rehabilitation,” he said.
"We have just given him approval to train individually at the club and be part of the Sharks' community programs.
"That agreement meant he also had access to the club's welfare and education support services.
"If that commitment has changed then it will be taken into account when we consider whether his contract should be registered.”
Sharks teammate Chris Heighington admitted he was surprised by Barba's latest move.
"It was a big surprise to be honest. I'm not sure of the ins and outs,” Heighington told Sky Sports Radio.
"He's been back at training the last few days and looked really good and had a smile on his face.”
Organisers of the Brisbane Global Tens rugby competition, meanwhile, wasted no time in offering Toulon a formal invitation for him to take part.
The club is competing at the inaugural Brisbane Tens on February 11-12 before its next French Top 14 game on February 19.
Duco Events Australia chief executive Rachael Carroll said she would love to see Barba join an already star-studded Toulon Tens squad featuring Australian guns Drew Mitchell and James O'Connor.
"Following the breaking news of Ben Barba going to Toulon, we overnight extended a formal invitation to Toulon to invite him to play as part of their squad in the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens next week,” Carroll told foxsports.com.au.
"The Brisbane Tens will be the first time Toulon has ever played in Australia, and the fast-paced 10-a-side format would make for a brilliant transition for Ben Barba from NRL to rugby.”
"Whilst Ben Barba is not currently listed in the Toulon squad the door is certainly open for him and we think the fans would love it.”
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