Rugby League

Auckland Nines: Cronulla Sharks' Ben Barba prepared to revive utility role

Auckland: Ben Barba may keep his super-sub tag, with the Cronulla utility uncertain whether he has done enough to claim the No.1 jersey.

Barba is locked in a three-way battle to replace Michael Gordon at fullback along with Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes.

While Holmes is likely to take up one wing spot, Barba could be forced to again play on the interchange bench if Bird makes a successful transition from the halves to fullback.

"Me and [Bird] are trying to play in the one position," Barba said. "As long as I'm playing first grade I'm happy. I didn't mind playing off the bench last year. If that's how I'm going to start the year, then so be it."

Barba was earmarked to be the Sharks' long-term halves option at the start of last season.

But a slow start to the year, coupled with injury, gave Bird a chance to cement the No.6 jersey. The additions of James Maloney and Chad Townsend to the Sharks roster have led to Bird and Barba finding new spots. 

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Barba started just six games from the interchange bench and said he was more than happy to reprise that role. 

"When I got moved back to the bench, that's when I started to enjoy my football," Barba said. "It allowed me to relax a little bit more. I wasn't given too much responsibility. What was asked of me was to go out there and enjoy my football and get into good positions."

Despite being switched between halves and fullback last year, he has spent the entire pre-season training at fullback. 

"It'll be my first pre-season in a while where I've been really settled," Barba said. "I didn't have my family with me last year and I was living with mates. I wasn't settled.

"That's something I have enjoyed this year, being able to go to my own house after a big day and being able to relax. It's been really good and showed in my training.

"I've no problems with my body and I made sure I came into this season fighting fit."

Barba will get a chance to impress when he plays alongside Bird in Cronulla's Auckland Nines team. At his best, Barba would be among the most devastating players in the abbreviated format.

However, he was given a harsh reality check when he represented the Broncos in 2014.

"It wasn't what I expected," he said. "I wasn't expecting it to be so fast. There's not as much room out there as you think. Most of the teams are coming off big pre-seasons and are really fit and eager to play footy.

"Everyone covers the spaces pretty easy. Towards late Sunday is when teams start to get tired and guys like myself really enjoy it."

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