Former Dally M winner Ben Barba has confirmed to Cronulla Sharks management on Thursday he has accepted a $2.5 million deal with French rugby union club Toulon.
Fox Sports has reported that Barba broke the news to the Sharks after originally having hoped to continue his career in the NRL by playing for Toulon while serving a 12-match suspension for illicit drug use.
However, the governing body moved quickly to shut down his plans.
Cronulla boss Lyall Gorman had earlier admitted the club was resigned to losing Barba less than two weeks after re-signing him on a one-year extension.
In a tumultuous day for the premiership-winning fullback, Toulon shocked the NRL world by trumpeting Barba’s signature until midway through 2017.
NRL boss Todd Greenberg on Wednesday declared Barba’s suspension would not start until any overseas playing commitments were completed, virtually ruling Barba out of a return this year.
The developments come after the NRL had recently granted the former Dally M medallist permission to train at the club and participate in community programs.
Now Barba could be gone for good, with reports Toulon have handed him a long-term deal that could sensationally begin at the inaugural Global Tens carnival in Brisbane next week.
“Ben’s always been frustrated by the stability in his life. Married man with four young kids, I can understand that,” Gorman said.
“We’re just trying to get a bit more clarity around some of those items to give him a bit more level of comfort as to where he’s at.”
Gorman confirmed the original one-year offer for Barba is still on the table.
“I think we’ve always made our position very clear that we see Benny as a member of our club and want to see him have a long-term future at our club,” he said.
“At the end of the day, his decision is to go overseas and he believes that’s in the best interests of his wife and kids, we accept that.”
Barba was a key component in the Sharks’ maiden premiership win last year, but his manager Gavin Orr admits his 27-year-old client may have made his final appearance in the NRL.
“I dare say he will play in this Tens tournament,” Orr told News Corp. “Ben can either look back at his mistakes or he can look forward and try to be an inspiration for his kids.
“Rugby has been on Ben’s radar before. At one stage he looked at being part of the Australian Sevens team for the Rio Olympics.
“Even before he joined the Sharks, he talked about challenging himself in rugby. Maybe things happen for a reason, but this is something he wants to pursue.”