Set small text size
Set the default text size
Set large text size
Ben Barba is on the verge of returning to the NRL next year after reportedly seeking a release from his English Super League contract.
The former Cronulla premiership winner has met with St Helens management and requested permission to be released from the final year of his deal and return to Australia, according News Corp.
The Sharks will be in the box seat to sign the former Dally M winner, despite having a wealth of fullback options in Valentine Holmes and Josh Dugan.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has consistently said they would welcome back Barba, despite the fullback being sacked from the club in 2016 after testing positive to cocaine.
“He’s a premiership-winning player for this club and if he wants to come back to Australia, we’ll look at it,” Flanagan said in May.
“We’ve lost Ricky Leutele, he’s off to the Toronto Wolfpack next year and Jesse (Ramien) is off to Newcastle.
“(Josh Dugan) is quite happy to play in the centres, at the moment he’s playing fullback.
“We’ll weigh up all of those things in due time. We’ve got to concentrate on the present at the moment.”
Barba’s return to the Sharks could prompt Holmes, who is off-contract at the end of 2019, to exit the club.
The Townsville-born Queensland and Australian representative is weighing up an offer from North Queensland as well as a contract extension from the Sharks.
Should Barba return to Cronulla, Holmes could elect to move to the Cowboys in order to play in his favoured position of fullback.
Barba was forced out of the NRL after recording his second positive illicit drugs strike after the Sharks’ grand final celebrations.
He had an ill-fated stint in French rugby union before reigniting his career with St Helens.
He has returned to his best form in England, scoring 28 tries in 27 games, and is the favourite to win the Man of Steel award.
And it’s believed that the NRL would not stand in Barba’s way of returning to the game, having served a 12-game ban for his drugs strike.