AAP Rugby

Barba’s UK legacy hampered: Saints coach

By AAP Newswire

His coach may reckon his St Helens legacy is "hampered" but Ben Barba will return to the NRL with new-found belief after crediting his UK Super League stint with rediscovering his love for rugby league.

The hype over Barba's NRL return gained momentum after the ex-Cronulla star capped his two-year St Helens stint by claiming the Man of Steel Award - Super League's equivalent of the Dally M Medal.

The 29-year-old hopes his best is yet to come in his one-year North Queensland deal in 2019, saying the Saints had helped him regain his mojo.

"I always knew when I was coming here that it wasn't going to be easy," Barba told BBC Sport.

"I knew what this competition is capable of. I think me going back to the NRL is a lot about Super League and St Helens.

"Saints got me enjoying my football again and allowed me to play that expansive football."

But Saints coach Justin Holbrook reckoned Barba's UK stint may be tainted after failing to help the Super League heavyweights win any end-of-season silverware.

St Helens claimed the League Leaders' Shield for finishing minor premiers six points clear of their rivals but suffered a shock Super League semi-final loss to Warrington.

The Saints also had a surprise Challenge Cup semi-final defeat earlier this year in the annual knockout tournament.

Asked if Barba's legacy was clouded by the defeats, Holbrook told St Helens Star newspaper: "It is hard to answer because we did get bundled out in the semi and feel that everyone's assessment is hampered by that.

"I don't think Benny can be excluded from that. For how well we have done this year - lose one game (in semi-finals) and you are gone - it is hard.

"I said at the start he (Barba) will be great for Super League and for St Helens and he was that.

"But the fact that we did not get to the Challenge Cup final or the Super League grand final is disappointing for Benny and for all of us."

Barba scored 31 tries this year to earn the Man of Steel Award, becoming just the second player behind Gavin Miller to claim the top honours in both the UK and Australia.

The Cowboys deal ensures Barba returns to Australia for the first time since being sacked by Cronulla for a second strike for illicit drug use after their 2016 grand-final win.