Smith concedes Saints are “frontrunners” in Barba race

Warrington coach Tony Smith has admitted that rivals St Helens are the “frontrunners” to land the services of former NRL superstar Ben Barba.

The future of the ex-Cronulla man has been in the spotlight ever since it emerged his time in French rugby union with Toulon was coming to a premature end.

The Saints and Wire were immediately linked with Barba, with Justin Holbrook’s side understood to be closing to finalising a deal for Barba in the coming days. And Smith admitted while the Wolves are monitoring the situation closely, Saints look favourites to sign him.

He told TotalRL: “It does sound like they’re the frontrunners.

“We’re like most of the other rugby league teams around the world in that we’re very interested in what he does next. Whether he decides to come back to rugby league or not, we’ll see.

“He’s got a 12-week suspension to serve first and I think it’s a decision for Ben to see if he’s ready to come back into the sport. He’s got to see what club he wants to play for – they’re his decisions, really.”

Smith was speaking in the run-up to Friday night’s game against Leeds: where he will be without the services of forward Ben Westwood.

The 35-year-old broke a bone in his hand at Magic Weekend and will be out for around six or seven weeks – and Smith revealed the details of Westwood’s injury, and how he played on through the pain.

“He’s good but his hand isn’t,” Smith said. “He’s going to be in a pot for six weeks which is probably the best outcome we could have had. We knew he’d broken it; we feared he may have needed an operation which was season done but it should repair.

“He did it in the first few minutes of the game. He tells me he could feel when he moved his hand – and I’m saying this with a grimace – he could feel the bones grating against each other as he moved his fingers. It shows how tough some of these guys are. He goes to a different level when it comes to toughness.”