Canterbury fullback Ben Barba is poised for a shock return as early as the round-four clash with Greg Inglis' South Sydney after he immediately followed up his discharge from a health clinic with an emotional apology to teammates and an assertion that he would not let them down.
Having been released from a northern beaches rehab facility on Wednesday morning, Barba headed straight to Belmore, where he addressed players before his return to the training paddock on Saturday.
While the Bulldogs said Barba might return in ''coming weeks'', Fairfax Media has been told the fullback, who was stood down as he battled a multitude of personal problems, could return against the Rabbitohs, pitching him immediately into a duel with the in-form Inglis.
Barba's short address on Wednesday, before his return to the training paddock, was by all accounts honest and brutal on himself.
In it, he admitted to having let teammates down over his off-field behaviour, which resulted in him being stood down.
The Bulldogs met as a group on Tuesday to discuss the prospect of Barba's return.
It is understood that while players did not oppose the move, some expressed concerns because coach Des Hasler demands players sacrifice so much for the team.
The fact that Barba went outside that mantra had some expressing reservations.
Bulldogs chief Todd Greenberg moved to ensure that Barba's teammates helped the troubled star by not encouraging him to drink alcohol and by supporting him through his battle.
Greenberg and other officials at the club decided to allow Barba to train again after, on Tuesday night, the club boss spoke with the clinicians in charge of him during his rehabilitation.
It was decided to cut short his time at the clinic because the staff there believed that Barba would benefit from a return to his team environment.
The 23-year-old will be required to attend the facility at times.
''It's nice to be dealing with an issue where rugby league is part of the solution,'' Greenberg said. ''In this case, it is a significant part of his ongoing rehab.''
Barba attended the private health clinic as he attempted to overcome several off-field problems that resulted in him being suspended indefinitely by the club.
''It was great to be back at Belmore [on Wednesday],'' Barba said. ''The time away from footy has been helpful but I have missed it. It'll be great to be around my teammates again, I have missed their company over the past few weeks and can't wait to get back out on to the training field.
"I would like to say thank you to those close to me for their support and to the many hard-working professionals who have helped me over the last few weeks.
''The level of care that was given to me was incredible and I will forever be thankful to the very caring and compassionate people who assisted me during a very difficult time in my life.
''I have learnt an enormous amount in the last few weeks and I know that I have lots of hard work and sacrifice in front of me over the next few years.''
Greenberg said the NRL was ''comfortable with our position and the strategies we have in place''.
- Sydney Morning Herald