Star Cronulla fullback Ben Barba has been sacked by the club after reportedly testing positive to cocaine following the Sharks’ inaugural grand final win earlier this year.
The club released a statement on Tuesday morning following reports from the Daily Telegraph that he tested positive for cocaine four days after Cronulla’s two-point win over the Melbourne Storm to break their long-standing premiership drought.
“The club wishes to advise that it has agreed to provide Ben Barba an immediate release from his playing contract in order for him to address some significant personal issues,” the statement read.
“While this decision has not been easy for either party there is full agreement that it is one made in the best interests of Ben, his young family and our club.
“Consistent with our Club’s major focus on the welfare of its players, the Club is fully supportive of this decision and will assist in any way possible to allow Ben the time needed to address his life away from the pressure environment of professional sport.”
The NRL has announced that, should Barba return to the competition, he will first have to serve a mandatory 12-game suspension for his second breach of the code’s illicit drugs policy. Barba’s first strike was recorded in 2015.
Barba has a history of off-field issues in the NRL. Prior to his first breach of the illicit drugs policy last year, he was stood down by the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2013 to sort out an alcohol and gambling problem, as well as some other personal issues.
The 27-year old will now fly to an overseas facility – believed to be in Thailand – to seek treatment following the recent positive test.
“I know and accept I need to take some time away from the game to deal with some personal issues,” Barba said in a statement.
“I am accountable for myself and my actions and if I don’t address them now I will certainly ruin my career and more importantly my life and that of my family.
“As footballers we often find it hard to speak up about having problems, but this decision has lifted so much pressure off myself that I cannot start to explain just how much better I feel by taking this action.”
Barba was one of the best performers in Cronulla’s maiden grand final win, scoring the first try in their premiership-clinching win.
With the key playmaker now gone from the club, the Sharks do have a ready-made replacement for him in fullback in Valentine Holmes.
Holmes has played on the wing during his short NRL career so far, and is doing so with the Kangaroos in the current Four Nations campaign, but many see his future in the game wearing the number one jersey.