French rugby union club Toulon have trumpeted the signing of troubled Cronulla Sharks star Ben Barba for the remainder of Top 14 season.
Toulon released a statement on Tuesday night saying the 2016 premiership winner had agreed to a temporary code switch.
— Sky Sports Rugby 🏉 (@SkySportsRugby) January 31, 2017
The 27-year-old was released by the Sharks late last year after he tested positive to cocaine in the wake of their watershed grand final triumph, in which Barba scored the opening try. Barba’s second strike under the NRL’s illicit substances policy carried a mandatory 12-match ban.
After an overseas stint in rehab, Barba penned a one-year deal with the Sharks, but the NRL is yet to ratify it and has prohibited him from training with the team until the suspension has been served.
“Barba operates at fullback but can also cover the positions of centre and five-eighth,” the statement said.
“Barba should arrive in Toulon next week and be in contention for the next match of the Top 14 season.”
The Top 14 season runs until May/June, which would allow Barba to return to the Sharks around the time his ban finishes – assuming the NRL give him the green light.
— deborah knight (@deborah_knight) January 20, 2017
The abrupt move to France would seem a curious one for Barba, however. The brilliant fullback has endured a succession of off-field problems during his first-grade career at Canterbury, Brisbane and Cronulla, and there’s no question the best periods of his career have come during times of personal and family stability.
Toulon currently sit fifth in the Top 14 competition with eight wins, eight losses and a draw from 17 games.
If Barba does head to Europe, he will link with Aussie expats Matt Giteau, James O’Connor, Drew Mitchell and Liam Gill at Toulon, the club that has signed Parramatta winger Semi Radradra from the end of 2017 and infamously acquired Sonny Bill Williams after he walked out on the Bulldogs in 2008.
Ex-Penrith and Kangaroos winger Luke Rooney also switched to the 15-a-side game with Toulon in 2008.