Ben Barba celebrates the 2016 premiership with Sharks fans.
Ben Barba celebrates the 2016 premiership with Sharks fans.

Door open: Sharks circling former star Barba

THE door is open for Ben Barba to return to Cronulla with Shane Flanagan declaring they have room in their roster even with Josh Dugan and Valentine Holmes.

Barba is reportedly seeking an early release from the final year of his English Super League contract with St Helens and a return to Australia because of homesickness.

The livewire No.1 has been electric for St Helens this year, guiding them to the top of the ladder however they could consider letting him go after signing Kevin Naiqama for 2019.

Barba was sacked by the Sharks after returning a second positive drugs test following the club's 2016 premiership win celebrations.

The club has consistently said they would welcome back Barba - even though the Sharks have a wealth of fullback options to choose from in Valentine Holmes, Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan.

However Flanagan revealed centre Ricky Leutele had signed with the Toronto Wolfpack for next year, meaning he had places to fill in his backline.

With Dugan and Holmes capable of playing elsewhere, he said fitting in Barba wouldn't be a problem.

"He's a premiership-winning player for this club and if he wants to come back to Australia, we'll look at it," Barba said.

Ben Barba has been in good form for St Helens.
Ben Barba has been in good form for St Helens.

"We've lost Ricky Leutele, he's off to the Toronto Wolfpack next year and Jesse (Ramien) is off to Newcastle.

"(Josh Dugan) is quite happy to play in the centres, at the moment he's playing fullback.

"We'll weigh up all of those things in due time. We've got to concentrate on the present at the moment."

Flanagan said Barba was still well regarded despite putting the club in a difficult position two years ago.

Barba scored a crucial try in the Sharks' 14-12 grand final win over Melbourne and Flanagan said he occupied a special place in the hearts and minds of the club and its supporters.

"No issues mate," Flanagan said. "He made some bad decisions.

"We love Benny."

Get the ultimate NRL experience on your phone with the new FOX LEAGUE App. Download it NOW for FREE on iOS and Android!