It may not be an exaggeration to say the goalposts have been moved in Super League in the last 24 hours.
St Helens’ signing of Ben Barba following the end of his spell with French rugby union side Toulon has ruffled more than a few feathers. Arguably one of the NRL’s best and most exciting players in recent years, Barba’s arrival into Super League is potentially the most high-profile since the days of household names like Steve Renouf.
However, it was the first few words of St Helens’ statement on Wednesday evening which caught the eye here at TotalRL towers. It read: “St Helens have taken advantage of the new additional marquee exemption provision to the salary cap rules..”
With that in mind, and the fact the Saints have used the leeway that was voted through by clubs earlier this year, does Barba’s arrival justify the changes which have caused such division in rugby league?
George Williams’ decision to commit his future to Wigan and avoid the flirtations of the NRL was one thing. But when big names like Barba, albeit with a 12-match ban attached to the stipulations, become available, you simply don’t say no. St Helens would, to put it bluntly, have not been able to get a deal like this done without the new marquee player exemptions. They are understood to already have one player in that bracket, so with clubs pushing through the second marquee allowance, it has given them the opportunity to pull off a signing who, in comparison, feels like something similar to when Mal Meninga strode through the door at Knowsley Road way back when.
And who knows, this could be the first of many signings from clubs which ramp up Super League’s reputation and prestige: just like Roger Draper wanted.
Barba’s arrival is just one signing, the nay-sayers could proclaim – and it may take much more than a disgraced NRL star to convince them the salary cap changes are for the good of the sport.
With Super League’s most even competition in years and some real surprises at both the top and the bottom, the unpredictability of the game could become a thing of the past if the big spenders continue to bring in big names like Barba. That, in essence, could ruin the credibility of the competition.
Those in doubt of the new salary cap changes will want to wait a considerable while longer before deciding that Ben Barba’s landing in the competition means the changes have been good for rugby league in this country.