Barba signs deal with French rugby club
BEN Barba has joined cashed-up French rugby union club Toulon for the remainder of the Top 14 season.
Toulon released a statement on Tuesday saying the rugby league star had agreed to jump codes, despite the troubled Cronulla star currently serving a 12-match NRL ban after testing positive to cocaine use.
"Barba operates at fullback but can also cover the positions of centre and five-eighth," the statement said.
"Barba should arrive in Toulon next week and be in contention for the next match of the Top 14 season."
Toulon's last regular-season fixture is against Pau on May 6, but should it make the finals its season would extend to early June.
The earliest Barba could return for Cronulla had been slated for round 14 in mid-June, once his three-month suspension due to a second, out-of-competition positive test to cocaine is completed.
The Sharks signed Barba to a one-year deal in the middle of January after he had sought, and was granted, a release to attend a Thai rehabilitation clinic.
That contract has been sent to the NRL for integrity unit approval and registration.
The game's governing body has no jurisdiction over rival codes or sporting organisations in regards to NRL-imposed suspensions, though it is unclear how Barba's new Toulon deal could impact that Sharks commitment in the eyes of League Central.
The NRL has vehemently resisted previous pushes for off-season rugby sabbaticals - designed to keep NRL players in the code - amid increased interest from cashed-up French and Japanese outfits.
For Toulon the signing of Barba comes in the same week Wallabies star Matt Giteau announced his exit from the French glamour club at the end of the season.
Controversial Eels winger Semi Radradra will arrive for its 2018 campaign on a bumper $1.5 million, two-year deal, though his final year with Parramatta is clouded by domestic violence charges before the courts.
"There's a big risk there (with Barba), you know," former Wallaby Stephen Hoiles told Bill and Boz on Fox Sports News 500.
"You have got to look at a guy like Ben Barba's history and when he played at his best, how stable he was back home.
"The owner for Toulon is a multi-millionaire who has made his money out of cartoon magazines. He literally pulled the pin on a holiday the players have - they're in Six Nations so they get time off. But they lost on the weekend and he said, 'no, you're all back training'.
"It's such an emotional and irrational place to go and play rugby. Matt Giteau has had a great time over there, Drew (Mitchell) has, Adam Ashley-Cooper loves it, but you've got to be careful where you go.
"Benny Barba, to learn the trade in a new code, I don't think France is the place to do it. I reckon if he wants to learn rugby do it properly and go to New Zealand or Australia."