Disgraced former NRL player Ben Barba will return to representative rugby league on Saturday when he joins the Mackay side for the League Championships.
- Ben Barba will represent Mackay in the new League Championships competition on Saturday
- He was de-registered by the NRL after a series of off-field incidents in 2019
- In August last year he was given permission to play community-level rugby league
Mackay will take on the Toowoomba Clydesdales in the new competition after winning the Foley Shield final.
The Dally M medallist, who has played for the Bulldogs, the Broncos, the Sharks and St Helens, was de-registered from the NRL in 2019 after a series of off-field incidents, including allegations he assaulted his partner at a casino in Townsville.
That de-registration was supported by the Queensland Rugby league (QRL).
But in August last year, after no conviction was recorded against him in the Mackay Magistrates Court for the assault of his brother-in-law, Barba was given approval by the Mackay District Rugby League to play community football.
Barba said he was hopeful the team would create “something special” at the weekend.
“It’s going to be tough, but we’ve got some good players locally,” Barba told media on Tuesday.
District chairman Heath Galletly, who only took on the position last month, said Barba had to apply through the Queensland Rugby League to register to play community-level league.
“Given his history, it got referred to those guys as they set the rules and the governing principles for what we comply with,” Galletly said.
“Once the QRL approved that process, then he applied to register here in Mackay … that was the process last year.
Expectations laid out to Barba
The ABC understands Queensland Rugby League rules meant it was unable to stop Barba registering from playing community football, given no conviction was recorded in August’s legal matters.
Since then, Barba has played for the Mackay club Carltons.
Galletly said the organisation had made it clear what it expected from Barba, in terms of his behaviour, upon his return.
“We did have a chat to Ben, and outline a few expectations around community rugby league,” he said.
“That’s about the level of detail it was.”
This weekend’s game will be the biggest game Barba has played since being de-registered by the NRL.
He will play fullback for the Mackay representative team, still considered a community-grade team, on Saturday.
His return to rugby league comes a week after he represented North Queensland in an AFL representative match against South Queensland.
He also plays in the AFL Mackay competition.
“I enjoy playing AFL,” Barba said.
“I’m surprised my body still holds up, playing Saturdays and Sundays, but look, I think the change to fullback has really helped my fitness.”
Mackay coach Steve Jackson said Barba was “one hell of a football player”.
“You put him in a big game and he’s going to shine,” Jackson said.