Still on a high after their maiden premiership success, the Cronulla Sharks have been dealt a blow with news that star fullback Ben Barba has failed a drug test.
As a result, the Sharks have released Barba from his playing contract effective immediately, to allow the fullback to address his personal issues.
Should the failed drug test be confirmed, Barba faces a 12-match ban from the game under the NRL’s drugs policy.
Accepting that he has personal issues to address, Barba will reportedly head to Thailand to resolve these.
“I know and accept I need to take some time away from the game to deal with some personal issues,” said Barba.
“I am accountable for myself and my actions and if I don’t address them now I will certainly ruin my career and more importantly my life and that of my family.
As footballers, we often find it hard to speak up about having problems but this decision has lifted so much pressure off myself that I cannot start to explain just how much better I feel by taking this action.”
Whilst Barba harbours ambitions to return to the game, he knows that he has to make sure he is in a good headspace off the field before he contemplates any return.
“I hope to return to the game at some stage and am very grateful for the support of the Cronulla Sharks and I hope that one day I can again play beside this terrific bunch of guys,” Barba said.
“I have made some tremendous friendships both within the playing ranks and throughout the coaching and administration teams. This has made it all the more difficult to make this decision but it’s something I just had to do.”
A Cronulla Sharks statement on the matter read as follows:
“The Club wishes to advise that it has agreed to provide Ben Barba an immediate release from his playing contract in order for him to address some significant personal issues.
While this decision has not been easy for either party there is full agreement that it is one made in the best interests of Ben, his young family and our Club.
Consistent with our Club’s major focus on the welfare of its players, the Club is fully supportive of this decision and will assist in any way possible to allow Ben the time needed to address his life away from the pressure environment of professional sport.
Although Ben has had a very successful season on the field culminating in being a major part of a winning Grand Final team, it is his life away from the field which he now seeks assistance with.
Both the Club, Ben and his team mates hope that at some stage in the future he will be able to return to the game he loves but that is not the priority at the moment.”
A well-revered figure at the Cronulla club, CEO Lyall Gorman says the Sharks will work with Barba to help him and know that he has to work on himself before he thinks about returning to the game.
“This is an incredibly difficult situation for Ben, his family and our Club and all involved with it,” said Gorman.
“Ben has made a remarkable contribution to our Club and community since joining it. It is however something we believe and accept is absolutely necessary in order to assist Ben to work through the challenges at hand.
“While Ben will be a major loss to our football club, the far greater priority is for him to focus on his long term future away from football and we will continue to support Ben throughout that process in any way we can.
“As this is a very challenging time for Ben and his family, Ben would appreciate if they were allowed to work through this very private matter.”
The former Dally M winner may face scrutiny from the NRL with their hard stance on the use of illicit drugs, as a previous email released by the NRL outlines.