Star Cowboys recruit Ben Barba says a sixth Indigenous All Stars appearance would be the perfect reintroduction to NRL football after two years in the northern hemisphere.
Despite not having played on these shores since winning the 2016 Telstra Premiership grand final with the Sharks, Barba holds a healthy lead in voting for the fullback spot for the February 15 Harvey Norman All Stars clash at AAMI Park.
"It would be wonderful. It's something I hold pretty special, to be named in that side the past few times," Barba told NRL.com.
"Now to be back in the NRL and for it to be possibly my first game back it would be a good way to get myself back into the swing of things."
Barba was thrilled by the fans voting heavily for him to feature in the team despite being off the Australian scene for the past two years while he has revived his career in the English Super League.
"There's some other good fullbacks there to compete against and another week or so of voting so hopefully I poll some more and it keeps me in that top spot," he said.
Barba was just 21 when picked for the first of his five All Stars appearances but at 29 is now in more of a position to be one of the mentors of the Indigenous squad – a role filled by the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen in Barba's early appearances.
"It's a chance for us to represent our culture, our families. It's a celebration of our culture," Barba said.
"When Presto [Preston Campbell] brought the game in a few years ago with how much it meant for him, it's just rubbed off on all us young indigenous guys that followed the years after. It's just a celebration of our culture and something I'm very proud of.
"Coming through and seeing what it meant to the older guys and how proud they were of the culture and all the things we did during the week, it rubs off on you and showed us younger guys what the game meant.
"It wasn't just a game, it was a chance for us to represent our people. I've played in a few now and if I can have that sort of effect like that on any of the younger guys that are picked in the side at the end of the month, hopefully they can get something from it."
Barba also welcomed the new format of the fixture, with the Indigenous team pitted against a Maori side for the first time rather than a combined NRL All Stars squad.
"I think it's a good change. The Maori have a very proud tradition as well so it's a chance for those guys to show their culture to the NRL, people can learn a bit more as they did with the Indigenous side the last few years," he said.
"I think it's wonderful it's being played down in Melbourne with the amount of Maoris who live down there."
Barba: This is the light at the end of the tunnel
Barba was also confident the Cowboys' new-look spine was where it needed to be at this stage of the pre-season following a 13th-placed finish in 2018 and subsequent roster revamp.
"It's a whole new spine this year, there's been a lot of hard work over the off-season but I think we're coming along nicely," Barba said.
"We're where we want to be. Now it's all about, keep working hard till the trials come around and hopefully it's working better than it's not. It's still a few weeks until the games come around but it's coming along well.
"It's quite hard when you come into a new system to have things working straight away but we're all working hard here and hopefully in a couple of weeks' time we can play some actual football and keep working on those combinations."