Former North Queensland Cowboy Ben Barba has signed with a local soccer club.
Former North Queensland Cowboy Ben Barba has signed with a local soccer club. Aidan Cureton

Barba signs on with new club in Mackay

BANNED from all forms of rugby league, former North Queensland Cowboy Ben Barba has switched codes, trading in the oval footy for a round ball and a set of shin guards.

Barba is playing in the Mackay Premier Men's League as a striker for Rangers.

He helped his team to a win over Country United in the first round of the FFA cup in Mackay on Thursday night.

While his time in the limelight for league is over, Barba will get a crack at Mackay's most elite footballers in the second round of the FFA Cup, taking on NPL side Mackay and Whitsundays Magpies Crusaders United.

Asked by the Daily Mercury about his involvement in the sport, Barba declined to comment.

The former high profile league player has played three games for the club this season, two with the premier men's side and one for reserve grade. In those appearances he scored four goals.

In early February Barba was sacked by the North Queensland Cowboys and subsequently placed on a lifetime ban by the NRL following an incident involving his partner at Townsville Casino. He has been charged with two counts of being a public nuisance in or near licensed premises.

Mackay Rangers coach Andrew Susani said the club had looked past the charges faced by the disgraced NRL player.

"From our point of view we are not interested in the past, we are interested in now," Susani said.

"Ben came to us and was really open about it all. He just wanted to be one of the players.

"He's an athlete and he loves competition and the game."

Susani said Rangers held their players to a high standard, and Barba had met their benchmark.

"He is going to be an image of our club just like any other player," Susani said.

"We set a high standard and he's been happy to do everything we've asked."

Barba shares a history with the football club and has three lifetime friends in the team.

Brothers Lachlan and Stuart Watkins and Daniel Wheatley are childhood friends of Barba and all play in the Rangers premier men's team.

Susani said he believeed it was this connection that bought Barba to the club.

"He seems to be having a really good time without the huge amount of pressure put on him over the past 15 years," Susani said.

"He's always been close to the club and close to them. . . We're just happy to have him on board and happy to see he's having fun with his childhood mates."

While Barba never played senior football with the club, Susani said he had made appearances in the past.

"I've seen him fill in for a few little carnivals.

"We have a carnival every year and he has turned up to those a few times and had a bit of a run here and there," he said.

The premier men's team coach said the club had not ignored the footballer's past when considering his signing.

"There's always discussions on anyone who wants to join the club, especially Ben," he said.

"We discussed what's best for the club in this situation and the committee agreed that it was a good idea for the club."

Barba had mixed in well with the team, Susani said, and had shown excellent skills as an offensive player.

"He didn't come here with an ego, and (he is) not trying to generate publicity for the club."