Thursday 22 March 2018 / 02:01 AM


The Cronulla Sharks’ premiership celebrations have been dampened and their 2017 NRL title defence thrown a massive curveball following reports Ben Barba has tested positive to cocaine.

Barba tested positive to the illicit substance four days after the Sharks’ grand final defeat of Melbourne Storm – the first in their 50-season history – and the NRL notified player and club two weeks ago.

It is the second time in his career Barba has tested positive to a recreational drug.

The superstar fullback is scheduled to head overseas to get treatment at a Thailand rehabilitation centre, while under the NRL’s drugs policy, a second strike means Barba is facing an automatic 12-match suspension.

The Sharks are supporting Barba.

Barba has endured a rocky road since winning the Dally M Medal and starring in Canterbury’s charge to the grand final in 2012. The following season he spent time in rehab as he battled with anger and gambling problems, while his out-of-control partying with the infamous ‘Epic Bender Crew’ a high-publicised split with the mother of his children saw the Mackay product head to Brisbane.

An underwhelming 2014 campaign with the Broncos resulted return to Sydney, where he reconciled with his partner and linked with Cronulla. Although 2015 was a mixed one on the field, Barba was apparently getting his life straightened out off it.

He enjoyed a stellar season after cementing the Sharks’ fullback spot at the start of 2016, racking up 16 tries and 18 try assists – including the first four-pointer of the grand final. But an alcohol-related incident early in the season that saw him briefly return to Mackay was a reminder Barba’s demons were never too far away from the surface.

Whether Barba’s positive cocaine test is inherent of a genuine substance abuse problem or merely an ill-advised dalliance, a half-season ban will be a tough personal blow for the 27-year-old to overcome.

The Sharks can adequately cover for his absence – new Test winger Valentine Holmes has been earmarked as a future No.1 – but with the likes of Michael Ennis departing, coach Shane Flanagan would have been desperate to have his most experienced players on deck as his team attempts to break the NRL’s premiers curse.

[YouTube – AA Montages]

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Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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