BEN BARBA’S star continues to rise after he was given the honour of launching this year’s NRL season.
Fairfax Media can reveal the Bulldogs fullback will give a speech to officially kick off the year on behalf of the players at a gala function at the new events centre at The Star on Wednesday, February 27.
It caps a stellar period for the 23-year-old after winning the Dally M medal, appearing in a grand final, earning inclusion in Queensland’s emerging Origin squad and being chosen to represent the Indigenous side for Saturday’s All Stars game at Suncorp Stadium.
”It’s a pretty big moment in my footy career,” Barba said. ”I found out last week. When [Canterbury CEO] Todd [Greenberg] came down and pulled me aside I thought I was in trouble there for a bit.
”It’s an absolute honour to be doing this on behalf of all the great players in the game. I can’t wait to see what the night is all about, I’m really looking forward to it.
”It’s a reward for the season I had last year and I can’t say how thankful I am for being chosen.
”It caps off a good season and hopefully it puts me in the right frame of mind to reproduce the form I did last year.”
Barba has taken his game to a new level under Canterbury coach Des Hasler to the point where he is now one of the most recognisable and marketable men in league.
”It highlights Ben’s ongoing improvement in the game and that resonates both on and off the field,” Greenberg said. ”Last year was obviously a good year for Ben and the Bulldogs and this honour is a direct reflection of that.”
Barba will follow on from Manly playmakers Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans, who gave the address last season. And while Barba will feature in the NRL’s new advertising campaign, NRL marketing boss Paul Kind stressed the league was not bestowing him with the title of ”face of the game”.
”While we will use Ben appropriately throughout the year in promotions and marketing, there is no intention to elevate him above other players in our marketing of the game,” he said.
”Obviously it was an outstanding performance on the field last year and the football that he played is representative of everything that people love about rugby league. He’s about to go into the indigenous All Stars and hopefully have another big year ahead.”
The season unofficially kicks off with the All Stars game, with Wayne Bennett’s team taking on Laurie Daley’s Indigenous side.
”We’re excited to be launching what we believe will be the most exciting year in rugby league,” Kind said.
”It starts with the Roosters-Rabbits to open the season on the Thursday night and will finish with a World Cup final at Old Trafford on November 30, with State of Origin in the middle.”
Barba, who will attempt to become the first player to win back-to-back Dally M medals since Andrew Johns in 1998-99, knows he will be a marked man this year.
”After the season I had last year I’ve always said it would be hard to back it up,” Barba said.
”I’ll try to perform really well for the Bulldogs week-in and week-out and hopefully let my footy do the talking. If that happens rewards can come on the back of that.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.