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NRL's Cronulla Sharks confirm Barba's move to Toulon rugby

SYDNEY (AP) — The Cronulla Sharks have confirmed that fullback Ben Barba had signed a contract with powerful French rugby union club Toulon and would leave the National Rugby League champions.

Barba has taken up a 2 ½-year contract with the Top 14 club. Australian media say the contract is worth an estimated $760,000 a year, which would make him among the sport's highest-paid players.

"We are of the understanding the contract with Toulon will be effective immediately," the Sharks said in a statement Thursday. "Ben believes accepting this offer to be in the best interests of himself and his family."

He had hoped to move to France while serving his 12-game NRL ban for a second positive illicit drugs test — cocaine — which was revealed in November. But NRL chief Todd Greenberg ruled that Barba's rugby league suspension wouldn't start until any overseas playing commitments were completed, ruling Barba out of a return to the NRL this year.

Barba could have made his Toulon debut at next weekend's Global Tens rugby tournament in Brisbane, but the Australian Rugby Union said the NRL ban would prevent him playing in the tournament.

Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal told French newspaper L'Equipe that Barba's deal had strict behavioral clauses and his contract would be terminated for any infractions.

Barba, 27, played 168 games across his nine-year NRL career, scoring 99 tries, and was a key part of the Sharks' first premiership win last year. After debuting for Canterbury in 2008, Barba went on to win the 2012 Dally M medal as most valuable player after guiding the Bulldogs to the grand final.

He left the club the following year for the Brisbane Broncos and joined the Sharks in 2015.