Barba's career under fire again
BEN Barba's football career is at a crossroads again with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal set to punt the ex-NRL star just four months into a $2.5 million, two-and-a-half year deal.
But a return to rugby league this season appears remote, with multiple French rugby outfits understood to have expressed interest in the former Dally M Medallist and a 12-game NRL ban for cocaine use still hanging over his head.
Barba was signed until the end of 2019 by ex-Bath coach Mike Ford following his second strike under the NRL's illicit drugs policy, just days after winning Cronulla's maiden premiership, left his rugby league career in tatters.
But with Ford also moved on from his post at the start of April, Toloun's multi-millionaire boss told local press that Barba did not fit in with the plans of new coach Fabien Galthie, the former French captain and scrumhalf.
"He's Mike Ford's player,” Boudjellal said after the club's final regular season game, listing Barba among a group of departing stars including ex-Wallabies Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell.
As of Wednesday night Barba's manager Chris Orr had not received any word from Toulon regarding the former Dally M Medallist's future. Boudjellal was also unavailable for comment.
It's understood the next component of Barba's lucrative Toulon deal is an option which must be decided upon by June 5, though it is unclear whether this is in favour of the club or player.
Toulon have progressed to the sudden death stage of the Top 14, but Barba has barely been sighted since debuting in March, playing just 96 minutes across four games.
The 2017-18 season kicks off in August, with Parramatta's Semi Radradra to join Toulon a few months afterwards, and there are no shortage of suitors willing to offer Barba a lifeline in the 15-man game.
Given the multiple drugs scandal that have engulfed the NRL and Barba's own troubled past, it's unlikely head office would grant him a saloon passage back into the game.
With over a third of the current season already gone and Barba still to serve his three-month ban, he would be long odds to get clearance for a shock 2017 return even if cleared by the NRL Integrity Unit.
When Barba walked out on the 13-man game NRL CEO Todd Greenberg did not slam the door shut on a possible return, but did stress that Barba's punishment still stood in the eyes of the governing body.
"I don't think we put a line through people,” Greenberg said in February.
"The game is forgiving and we don't shut the door on too many players. If he decides to come back to the National Rugby League, the moment he decides that and has a discussion, a 12-week suspension must be undertaken before we consider him.”
A move to a Super League outfit such as Catalans would also hit the same hurdle, as the English game has an understanding with League Central that both competitions will observe sanctions in the other.
Barba's move to the other side of the globe was necessitated in part by his need to provide for his family.
Rugby union offered a regular, lucrative pay cheque that waiting out his NRL ban in Australia could not, with his regular income drying up when Cronulla sacked him in November.
It's understood the Sharks were offered the chance to pay Barba in advance when a new one-year deal was signed, but the club declined.
Whether the NRL would allow the same arrangement should Barba pursue a return is unknown, though as he would be returning to the code, any club signing him would have to meet a notional contract value set by head office.
Barba's four daughters and partner Ainslie have also recently joined him and settled in France, and are said to be enjoying the French lifestyle.
In an interview with Fox Sports prior to leaving Australia in February Barba declared he remained open to an NRL return down the line, but also admitted his rugby league career may never be revived.
"That's a bit of a tough one, you could say yes and no,” Barba said at the time.
"Obviously I would have liked it to run a bit smoother than my career did go.
"But I won two pretty special awards in the game, if I leave and don't come back I'd be happy with how everything went.
"I've done some pretty special things but I'm ready to move on.”