Barba relishing chance to return home

Ben Barba will aim to reproduce his sparkling St Helens form for North Queensland in the NRL.
Ben Barba will aim to reproduce his sparkling St Helens form for North Queensland in the NRL.

Back on Australian soil, Ben Barba says being closer to his family prompted his decision to join North Queensland for his NRL return.

Barba arrived at Cowboys HQ in Townsville on Tuesday to tour the club's facilities, before the club returns to training on November 5.

The star of the English Super League with St Helens this year, Barba battled homesickness in the second half of the season following his grandmother's death.

The 29-year-old is now staying with family in hometown Mackay as he prepares to settle in with the Cowboys in Townsville and play his first NRL game since the 2016 grand final success with Cronulla.

"It's just an opportunity of coming back to where I'm from," Barba told the Cowboys' club website on Tuesday.

"I've played most my senior footy down in Sydney."

"And now to be just down the road from where I grew up down in Mackay, it's going to give a lot of chance for family who haven't seen me play live to see me a little bit more."

All eyes will likely be on Barba and his one-year deal at the start of next season as the Cowboys enter the post-Johnathan Thurston era after finishing 13th in 2018.

Barba sat out the majority of 2017 after copping a ban for recreational drug use and left the NRL for a brief rugby union stint in France before scoring 28 tries and having 24 assists in 23 games for St Helens this year.

That helped him become just the second player to win both the Dally M Medal and the English equivalent Man of Steel award, and also prompted Thurston to believe the fullback can breathe new life into the Cowboys.

Barba said he was excited by the thought of playing behind the club's monster pack, that includes Matt Scott, Jordan McLean and Jason Taumalolo.

"This Cows forward pack is one of the best in the comp," Barba said.

"I watched some of the boys play the other night (when Australia beat Tonga) and me and my dad were just chomping at the bit, knowing I was pretty lucky to play with guys like that.

"I can't wait."

Australian Associated Press