Banned former NRL superstar Ben Barba returned to a rugby league field this weekend when he played in the National Indigenous Rugby League Championships.
The former St Helens full-back was handed a life ban from all forms of rugby league in 2019 following domestic violence allegations which took place just months after winning Super League’s Man of Steel award and signing a mega deal with North Queensland Cowboys.
However, Barba was able to play this weekend with the NRL having no power over the independently organised event, and he was a standout performer in the Championships alongside current NRL players Andrew Fifita, Jesse Ramien, Brian Kelly and Tyrone Peachey.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph in Australia, NRL boss Andrew Abdo admitted he was not aware Barba would be playing in the tournament.
“It’s independently organised,” he said. “It’s not funded or sanctioned by the NRL so we have no jurisdiction over it. Anyone is free to play.
“In future years we might be able to work more collaboratively with them.
“The Barba situation isn’t ideal. If we’re going to work together in the future, it would be helpful (if they respected our rules). We didn’t know he was playing.”
The tournament’s director Matt Rose added: “I can’t believe how classy he still is. “He was brilliant.
“The fact he hasn’t played for so long it’s amazing.
“When you think about it, it’s quite sad that he’s no longer in the NRL.”