Sometimes rugby league hands us gifts almost too good to be true. On Sunday afternoon, in the biggest game of his career, Ben Barba returns to Mackay to secure a maiden Queensland State of Origin jumper.
In front of family and friends, the man nicknamed ‘X-Factor’ will run out for the Canterbury Bulldogs at Virgin Australia Stadium in a blockbuster match against the Melbourne Storm.
With a guaranteed sell out crowd behind him, never has the proverbial brass ring been so close to Barba’s magical little hands.
The man giving up his Queensland jumper is off course Billy Slater. How apt it is that Barba faces Slater’s Storm.
Adding another twist to the tale is the fact that another Mackay native will take the field on Sunday gunning for the vacancy in the Maroons backline. Melbourne’s Dane Nielsen will also return home with July 4 in his sights.
”They’ve got Greg Inglis, or they can bring in blokes like Dane Nielsen or Matty Bowen, so I have got to focus on my club form and hope for the best” Barba told the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday.
”I tried to take things out of that camp and learn from the best in the game.
“It is good to know that they are thinking of me but I have just got to keep playing good club footy and let that do the talking.
”It hasn’t been easy for the diminutive fullback. Getting to the top probably should take longer for a kid only standing 5’10 and weighing 85 kilos ringing wet.
The prodigious talent, originally born in Darwin, found the big smoke tough at first.
Sydney is a long way from Mackay. 1427 kilometres to be precise. But now he has found his feet and the fullback sure is using them.
Barba is so elusive and so quick you could miss him if you blink. In a game littered by monsters, the boy from Mackay shines.
The Bulldog doesn’t just let his feet do the talking, his feet roar just as loud as any monsters. Ask any opposition coach in the National Rugby League and they will tell you the same thing.
Queensland have a wealth of options for fullback. Inglis could be moved to the back, allowing Nielsen a position in the centres. Darius Boyd could be shifted, giving Nielsen, Bowen or Ash Graham a spot on the wing.
Stepping into the Origin cauldron with so much on the line in Game III would scare a lot of kids. Not this one.
If Barba’s form in 2012 is anything to go by, the people of Mackay are in for a treat on Sunday. The Maroons could go with experience or a reshuffle or whatever they like. The only way Barba can change perception is to smash it.
The ’X-Factor’ has a yes from me. He has a yes from Mackay too. Now its up to Barba and those feet of his. If he continues his form on the weekend, he might just get a yes from Mal Meninga.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON FOOTYSOCIAL.COM.AU