Laine Clark June 24, 2012
A call from Queensland selectors appears likely for Ben Barba after the Bulldogs fullback completed one of the great Origin auditions in Canterbury's 20-4 NRL win over Melbourne in Mackay on Sunday.
But the people Barba really wanted to impress have already made their feelings known.
Family members outnumbered Barba's Bulldogs teammates in the dressing room as, one by one, they congratulated the livewire No.1 after a memorable homecoming.
Barba stated a compelling case to replace Queensland fullback Billy Slater ahead of July 4's Origin III in Brisbane by scoring a try and setting up another two, including a remarkable length-of-the-field effort.
However, Mackay-bred Barba had higher priorities than Origin ahead of the first NRL clash played in his hometown.
"I was a bit nervous before the game. Playing in front of family and friends I grew up with, I was always going to be," Barba said.
"I am still in shock. It is a dream come true to come here but it another thing to beat a side like Melbourne in front of family and friends.
"There are more family inside the sheds than teammates."
Barba said he would monitor his mobile phone in case the Queensland selectors come calling.
But he sounded tempted to re-direct all now to his mother after her skills ensured a problem-free buildup to the historic game in Mackay.
"I gave all the tickets I could possibly get to mum. I said to everyone 'deal with her and I will talk to you after the game'," Barba laughed.
"I am lucky I have an organised mum - everyone was happy."
He hopes he will be smiling too when Queensland selectors make the tough call between Barba, Matt Bowen, Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd as Slater's replacement.
"I have put my hand up now. But there are some great fullbacks to choose from so I will just hope for the best," he said.
Slater had initially been rated a chance to recover from a knee injury by selectors despite being ruled out for at least four weeks.
However, his Storm coach Craig Bellamy all but ruled out a comeback on Sunday.
"All our medical opinion says he wouldn't be ready, hopefully common sense prevails," he said.
But Queensland captain Cameron Smith said a player of Slater's ilk had emerged.
"Look at a guy like Billy Slater, he had a few errors in him early on but now he's the best fullback in the game - Benny (Barba) has put himself in that category now," Smith said.
"He'd be able to handle the occasion if he is given opportunity."
Dogs' coach Des Hasler agreed: "He has the ability to break tackles, to come up with that play when you need it.
"His name is obviously up there but Queensland are in the fortunate position that they can choose between Matt Bowen, Barba, Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd - they are pretty well covered in that area."