Dear Ben Barba, a genuinely warm welcome back to action. I am but one fan keenly awaiting your return for the Bulldogs against unbeaten South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Friday.
The game has missed your sizzling cameos from the rear of the Dogs’ backline but you should know that all along, rugby league was prepared to wait until you had exorcised your personal demons and were in the right mental shape to start your career afresh.
And that’s exactly what you will be doing in front of a 35,000-plus crowd at headquarters.
It’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. There will be thousands of Canterbury fans sweating on you to spark the team’s attack as you did so frequently in your stellar, Dally M-winning 2012 season.
I’m guessing you will feel the pressure to perform for them but I’m sure your coach and teammates will want you to take things quietly and try to ease your way back to your brilliant best.
There will more than likely be some hecklers from the Souths camp.
History shows almost every time a player who was the subject of controversial headlines returned to the field, there were hoons who yelled unthinkable things from the stands in a bid to cause distraction, or they did so merely out of spite.
I’m hoping you can focus solely on the game and the contribution you can make on Friday and in the weeks ahead.
If there happens to be some unsavoury stuff aimed at you, be assured, there are thousands of Rabbitoh fans who appreciate what you have been through and are willing you to have a successful comeback.
Having said all of the above, I would love to see you turn on a big one for your club officials and especially your loyal teammates.
They are the ones who helped you get up off the floor. They are the ones who wanted you back in the fold (but only when there were green lights in all of the important areas of rehabilitation).
I sincerely hope the serious problems in your off-field life become fast-fading memories and that the ‘new’ Benny Barba becomes the player everyone respects – on and off the field.
Second chances in life and sporting careers are to be treasured. You’ve been handed yours by your family, friends and your employer and it will please everyone if you can eventually get back to the lofty heights you scaled so instinctively last season.
I have personally missed your amazing speed and skills over the first three rounds of 2013.
So have the Bulldogs who are one from three.
But the most important thing is that you have reached a level enabling a return to top grade action and, from all reports, you are in good shape, mentally and physically.
Enjoy putting on those boots again Ben.
And I hope that once again you experience the joy of the game that never deserted you.