Just months after appearing to have turned his life around, NRL premiership star Ben Barba has been cut from the Cronulla Sharks following a positive drugs test.
Sharks CEO Lyall Gorman fronted the media Tuesday morning and said Barba "made a poor choice" and "just got carried away with the celebrations" when he took cocaine just four days after the NRL grand final, in which the Sharks beat the Melbourne Storm to claim their first premiership in their 50th season.
Gorman emphasised that Barba was dealing with "significant personal issues".
"We advised Ben to step away to go and focus on his personal issues which are deep and meaningful to him. We we have agreed to release him from his contract so he can go away and work on issues relating to his future well past his playing days.
"He feels he needs to get out of the professional environment to focus on his issues. It's almost a monkey off his back for the first time in a long time to put himself first."
Barba has gone overseas to a rehab facility, accompanied by a welfare office from the Sharks. He has copped a mandatory 12 match suspension under the NRL's illicit and hazardous drugs policy. Barba chose not to appeal the ban, and Gorman would not be drawn on when, or if, Barba would return to the field.
"The highest level of priority is the welfare of Ben and his wife and children," he said.
Gorman repeatedly used the word "disappointing", and perhaps the most disappointing thing for fans of Barba and the game itself is that this latest incident flies in the face of the positivity portrayed by Barba just six weeks ago, when he said:
"Absolutely, the spotlight got to me, and I won't shy away from that. I lost track of who I was and what I was. I did let it go. Especially with myself and Ainslie [partner Ainslie Currie] at the time. I'm so happy that I have been able to patch things up with her.
We're in such a good head space now and have added another two little girls to the crew. We're flying at the moment and every day I'm so thankful. I've learnt from my mistakes and my family is happy. That's allowed me to enjoy my footy again."
"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," the Sharks said.
"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. "
The Sharks was Barba's third NRL home after stints at the Bulldogs ending in 2013 and Brisbane in 2014 and his contract with Cronulla-Sutherland was seen as a last lifeline after a career dogged by off-field dramas.
In 2016 he showed glimpses of the speed, agility and power that won him the Dally M Medal in 2012. But all that is on hold now.
"If I don't address them now I will certainly ruin my career and more importantly my life and that of my family," Barba said.
"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."
Barba said he hoped to return to the NRL in the future and was grateful for the support he had received from the Sharks.
The prodigiously-talented fullback said it was a difficult decision to make but one he "just had to do".