It might seem to some that it is far too early to raise the stress level concerning the 2019 State of Origin series, but those are the sort who wait until the last minute to do their Boxing Day shopping, when everyone knows that the hunt truly begins the day following.
Not long ago, it would have seemed that the No. 1 Maroons jersey was headed in the direction of Ben Barba, who stood to benefit from the retirement of Billy Slater and the quixotic quest of Valentine Holmes, but Barba himself feels that his age of 29 rules him out.
Barba is eligible to represent Queensland in 2019, as he is back from the UK, where he was doing Super League duty and has joined on the North Queensland Cowboys.
Barba has never played State and it might be thought that a Maroons’ jersey was a prime motivator in his returning down under.
It would be hard to claim that St. Helens had no further use of him in Super League, as his campaign with them resulted in the Man of Steel Award, the Brits’ version of the Dally M Medal.
Barba will be 30 in June and in his twilight, while young Kayln Ponga seems to have the upper hand for next year’s No. 1 spot.
“To be honest, I can’t say playing Origin for Queensland is a realistic goal,” he told the Former Origin Greats website, www.fogs.com.au.
“Obviously I would love to play Origin but the young guys coming through are getting better and faster and I have to be realistic about where I am in my career.”
Ready for the paddock at 30, so far as Origin football is concerned, in his mind at least, Barba has a three-year NRL lifeline with the Cows or another club and a good start to the 2019 Telstra NRL Premiership completion might see his name enter the Origin conversation.
The thing that could cruel his chances with Queensland was his sacking by Cronulla after he returned a positive test result for cocaine following the Sharks’ 2016 premiership.