WEEKS of speculation about Ben Barba's future has culminated in a big-money move back to Sydney, to join the Cronulla Sharks.
Barba is the second Mackay product to have been ousted by Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett as part of his squad overhaul, following Josh Hoffman's move to the Gold Coast Titans.
His departure from the Broncos after just one season was almost imminent, with Bennett making it clear that the 2012 Dally M Medallist wasn't guaranteed a spot in his first 17.
"It's unfortunate that he had to leave one year into a three-year contract," Barba's manager Chris Orr said.
"But, like in any industry, if the work's not there you go where the work is.
"He's a professional athlete and he's moved on and he's very grateful for the opportunity to play at the Sharks."
Barba has signed a three-year deal worth $800,000 each year.
It's a massive lifeline for a player who might have spent the 2015 season coming off the bench, thanks to Bennett signing Anthony Milford and Darius Boyd in his preferred positions.
It's a move that will take Barba away from his young family, just weeks after the birth of his third child, while his first two daughters finish school for the year.
Steve Jackson, who coached Barba, Daly Cherry-Evans and Travis Waddell in the Mackay under-17s eight years ago, was hopeful Barba's 12 months in Brisbane had prepared him for a successful return to Sydney.
"It's a tough one," Jackson said.
"Benny got into a bit of strife while he was at the Doggies and was just starting to get back on track at the Broncos.
"But he's a great little footballer and I'd just love to see him come out in the Sharkies jersey and blitz them."
"People think of all this glory and all the money but it's difficult.
"I hope he goes well at Cronulla. It will be a tough gig because they have been a struggling club but it might just be what he needs.
"He's going to be a bonus for a struggling Cronulla club."
Barba has come a long way since his junior days at Norths Devils in Mackay. Norths president Greg Sutherland has backed Barba's move and wished him the best of luck.
"As one of his former junior and senior clubs, we wish him well," he said.
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