All-rounder Barnes a superstar in the making

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 November, 2008, 12:00am

The first time Berrick Barnes went on an overseas tour, he had to cart along a couple of bats plus his wicketkeeping pads and gloves. It is much easier these days as a professional rugby player.

'I started out as a cricketer. I remember the first time I left Australia on a sports tour, it was to Sri Lanka and I had a great time,' says the 22-year-old. 'We played in the test venues in Colombo, Galle and Kandy, and it was a great experience.'

But Barnes' love affair with cricket was shortlived - thankfully for the Wallabies as the young flyhalf/centre is set to follow in the footsteps of Stephen Larkham or perhaps Michael Lynagh.

'I only played cricket until I finished high school. After that it was rugby league. I grew up in Queensland and it is a big sport down there. But now I'm fully committed to the Wallabies.'

Before cricket, there was swimming. He was a state champion in the butterfly, but got fed up with an exhausting training regimen and took up the bat where he went on to represent Queensland at age-group level.

Barnes began his new sport in the other code, joining the Brisbane Broncos as an 18-year-old and played nine first-grade matches in his only season in the National Rugby League in 2004/05. 'I was offered a contract by [rugby league coach] Wayne Bennett and I had no hesitation in joining,' says Barnes, whose father was a driver for a coal-mining company.

A year later he made the seamless switch to rugby union, joining the Queensland Reds. He is one of those guys who is annoyingly good at any sport he wishes to dabble in. If Barnes took up darts, the bullseye would seem to him to be as big as a barn door.

Coming off the bench against Japan at last year's World Cup in France, he scored two tries to make a huge first impression. Then with just 24 hours' notice, Barnes was called into the starting line-up against Wales to replace Larkham after the flyhalf fell victim to a knee injury.

Barnes put in an assured performance, setting up a try and kicking a drop goal as the Wallabies won 32-20. He then held on to his number 10 jersey against Fiji and England. This year it has been even more eventful, especially with the fresh challenge of playing under new coach Robbie Deans.

'I have thoroughly enjoyed the year so far. Being coached by Robbie Deans is a big difference. It's been good,' says Barnes, who has been a regular starter with Deans, playing in the first seven tests as Australia unveiled a new-look backline.

When winger Lote Tuqiri was asked to comment on the super-cool Barnes, he said: 'His youthful exuberance does him well.'

But even youth can fall prey to injury. Barnes picked up a shoulder knock during the historic Tri-Nations win over South Africa in Durban, which saw him miss the final two tests. He will start from the bench today but will be a key component of this tour to Hong Kong and Europe.

'I want to take it one game at a time. I don't want to look too far down the track,' he says.

'Coming back from injury, my first goal will be to get my confidence back.

'But I would like to see the Queensland Reds move up the [Super 14] ladder. We had a dreadful season and I would love to give something back to the fans by helping them move up.'

That's in the future. More pressing needs await him this month.