Barba unfazed by Cowboys links to Holmes
An older and wiser Ben Barba has backed himself to earn the North Queensland No.1 jersey in 2019 despite the Cowboys' pursuit of Cronulla fullback Valentine Holmes.
After getting his first taste of life as a Cowboy at Monday's sweltering Townsville training session, Barba said he was determined to savour his NRL lifeline and be "first picked" at fullback for the season opener.
The former Dally M Medallist admitted he could not afford to be distracted by speculation North Queensland were trying to lure Sharks superstar Holmes to the club next year as he launched his comeback.
Barba, 29, has signed a one-year Cowboys deal, returning to the NRL for the first time since he copped a 12-match ban for a second positive test for an illicit substance following Cronulla's 2016 NRL premiership win.
"This means everything. When I left last time I thought I was done for," Barba said.
"I didn't expect to ever be back. I thought I would spend the rest of my career in England." Asked how he had changed since 2016, Barba said: "Hopefully a bit wiser than I was before.
"It is no secret that my career has been a very rocky one.
"I have made some stupid decisions in my life. I know now this is my last chance.
"I have to knuckle down. Hopefully I have a few more years left in the game."
Rumours that Holmes will link with North Queensland next year are only getting louder but Barba remains unfazed about his pursuit of the Cowboys No.1 jersey.
"I see myself as a fullback. No one said I can come straight in and grab it," Barba said.
"(And) it is going to be hard (if Holmes arrives). I am not 22 any more - I am 30 next year.
"And everyone wants the new guy coming through. If they chase him, they chase him - it's no harm to me.
"I am all about letting my footy do the talking in 2019."
Barba was full of confidence after capping his two-year UK stint for St Helens with the Man of Steel Award, their equivalent of the Dally M Medal.
But he wasn't taking anything for granted at North Queensland, admitting it was nerve wracking signing a one-year deal to prove his worth.
"It can be (nerve wracking). But I see myself in a privileged position to come back in a side like this," he said.
"I went alright overseas but this is a totally different league. NRL is that step higher.
"I just have to find that again, how I was playing in 2016 for Cronulla.
"If they want to keep me, it's up to them. I am just lucky to be back in an NRL system."