Brilliant Barba grateful for Maroons experience
Watching him bamboozle NRL opponents like a magician effortlessly confounding an audience with his trademark trick, it is hard to imagine Ben Barba has anything more to learn at the top level.
But the Bulldogs
dynamo, who sunk the Broncos with two pieces of trademark magic in Round
23, says his brief appearance in camp with the Queensland Origin side
this season has been the greatest lesson of all.
Maroons coach Mal Meninga and the Queensland selectors could no longer ignore the brilliance of Barba, whose blistering form and habit of freakish long-range tries saw him named as 18th man for Origin II this season.
And while Barba has yet to officially wear the Maroon jumper in action, his cameo in Camp Maroon, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis, was an invaluable learning experience.
"It was a huge thing for me, just to be part of the Queensland set-up," says Barba, the Mackay product who made his entry to the NRL in 2008.
"I've been really happy with my form this season and it meant a lot to get that recognition from Mal, who just has this aura about him that demands respect.
"As a kid growing up in Mackay, I dreamed of playing Origin. I know I've got time to play for Queensland, so for now just talking to the guys in camp and getting little tips from them can only be a bonus for me."
Barba didn't muck around putting the advice Queensland's big guns into practice.
Just 10 days after his stay in Camp Maroon, the 86kg livewire was the architect of arguably the try of the season.
Playing Melbourne in a promotional NRL round 16 clash in his hometown Mackay, Barba kickstarted a remarkable 108-metre movement, beating Storm defenders in his own in-goal and racing upfield before kicking ahead for Josh Morris to touch down.
That is the magic of Barba, and why it seems only a matter of time before the 23-year-old brings his gifts to the Origin arena.
"Being part of the Queensland team has certainly given me that self-belief," Barba says. "I feel more confident in the NRL ... like I belong now."
But for Barba, the inspiration for his form does not come solely from the Queensland jumper now within reach.
The motivation comes closer to the heart. Deep within, the Canterbury custodian finds the drive from younger brother Marmin, the Parramatta Eels lower grader who doubles as a walking miracle.
It was around this time two years ago that Marmin interrupted Barba during a Bulldogs training session with a phone call, tears flowing as he told his brother: "I have cancer."
Both their worlds caved in. Marmin did what any cancer sufferer would do, vowing to hang tough.
And Ben Barba promised he would be Marmin's rock every step of the way.
From his living room, Marmin rides Barba's every try, line break and tackle. The relief is palpable: he has been cleared of lymphoma cancer.
Just turned 21, he even has a 15-month-old daughter, Peityn, to prove it.
"He's pretty much the reason where I am in my career, he's helped me out big time," says Marmin, who was on the brink of a call-up to Parramatta's NRL side when he was struck down by cancer.
"It hit Ben pretty hard. I remember ringing him myself, he was training at the Bulldogs and I told him. He was on the plane straight away to be with me.
"When I first got it, I thought that was it for me, my life was over. I had bad things running through my head, but within a few weeks they said I was cleared.
"Benny was a huge help for me. As soon as I heard I had it, I thought 'I won't be able to play sport ever again', but Ben said stay positive, one day you could be playing with me or against me.
"That helped me stay positive and get through it."
For Ben Barba, Marmin's near tragedy was his wake-up call. He couldn't cruise along in the NRL, trading on talent alone. He had to work hard; leave no stone unturned.
"He is my inspiration with all the things he has gone through," Barba said.
"I am hoping that one day he can say he is better than me."
Marmin chuckles at the mere comparison, preferring to focus on his brother's dominance right now.
"Ben is stoked with his form, he's playing the best football of his career, he's killing it," Marmin said.
"As kids we loved watching Origin and we were massive Queensland fans, so it would be great to see Ben wear that Maroon jumper one day."