Barba shines as Indigenous All Stars win
The dark cloud hanging over Australian sport received a welcome silver lining as Canterbury sensation Ben Barba inspired the Indigenous All Stars' 32-6 win over an NRL 'who's who' at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
After an Australian Crime Commission investigation uncovered systemic drug use in sport with links to organised crime, Barba tried to provide the shot in the arm disillusioned NRL fans craved in the official season kick-off in a sublime display.
Stealing the limelight in an All Stars game is no mean feat.
But reigning Dally M Medallist Barba effortlessly stole the show with three tries, forming a deadly combination with North Queensland five-eighth Johnathan Thurston.And Barba appears destined to again combine with Thurston this year in Queensland State of Origin colours after picking up on Saturday night where he left off in his breakthrough 2012 NRL season.
Barba did his best to keep the 41,021-strong Suncorp Stadium faithful on their feet after the All Stars concept came under fire in the lead-up to the fourth annual clash, held for the first time in Brisbane this year.
A lucrative pre-season nines tournament mooted for New Zealand next year has placed pressure on the existence of the All Stars showcase.
Barba provided one good reason to keep the faith with the concept, although a lacklustre second half ensured a restless crowd resorted to starting a Mexican wave.
The lack of second-half highlights coincided with Barba being rested in the final quarter after opting to ice a hamstring niggle.
The Indigenous All Stars squared the ledger at 2-2 with their NRL counterparts thanks to hat-tricks by Barba and flying Canberra Raiders winger Reece Robinson.
The feel-good vibe in the Indigenous camp threatened to turn sour when Thurston was felled by Willie Mason contesting a bomb in the dying minutes.
After the heart of Indigenous coach Laurie Daley - and, no doubt, Queensland mentor Mal Meninga - skipped a beat, Thurston eventually regained his feet and gave a thumbs up to team staff.