Three years after being named the best player in rugby league Ben Barba admits he lost confidence and the self-belief that made him such an exciting player.
When a 23-year-old Barba accepted the Dally M gong as player of the year in 2012 after scoring 22 tries in 27 matches, some of them freakish efforts, he was one of the game's favourite players.
He finished the season as the game's number one player, was Dally M Fullback of the Year, took out the Peter Frilingos's Moment of the Year and the Provan-Summons People's Choice Player of the Year.
However, for Barba the past few years dealing with personal family issues, injuries, constant social media attacks and a loss of form have seemed like an eternity.
Critics had written him off after a failed season with Brisbane in 2014 and things did not get any better last season for the former Bulldogs sensation when Cronulla dumped him to the bench.
But last Saturday night, in front of 37,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium in his Indigenous All Stars jumper, the speed, the step, the confidence, the belief and the smile were back in the Barba kit bag for all to see.
Barba, now 26, accepts he still has a way to go to convince some people he has changed and will get back to where he was, but he believes he has overcome the personal doubts that crept into his mind and can begin to rebuild his career with the Sharks this season.
"There was a time when I questioned my ability to play this game," Barba told APN.
"It's been tough. There are people out there who get to you. I always said to myself I wouldn't listen, but it's hard when you cop it all over social media and you see it when you don't want to see it.
"It's been a long battle but I'm really happy with how I have been able to rip into the pre-season and get my head straight and hopefully I can push for the No.1 jumper at the Sharks."
To do that he may have to get past brilliant youngster Valentine Holmes, who has had his own off-field battle to fight after being arrested and charged for being a public nuisance when he broke curfew at a recent Queensland Emerging Origin camp in Brisbane.
Barba wouldn't say he was back to his scintillating 2012 form just yet.
"That's hard to say," he said. "I'm feeling positive and confident at the moment. It's about me trusting in myself and believing in myself.
"That's what's been missing the last few years, me second-guessing myself a lot and questioning my ability to play this game.
"I'm trying to stay positive. I'm enjoying the training this year and the football and that's when I play my best."
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