Canterbury made their biggest statement yet with a commanding 20-4 win in their top-of-the-table clash back at Mackay’s Virgin Australia Stadium in Round 16.
A special occasion for Canterbury fullback Ben Barba and Melbourne centre Dane Nielsen with the pair returning to their northern Queensland roots, it was Barba who starred for the Bulldogs – scoring one try and setting up two more in a scintillating performance.
And it took him just eight minutes to strike when a Josh Reynolds in-field kick struck the post, with Barba swooping to score the opening try.
It took 22 minutes more for the Bulldogs to cross again, a Kris Keating kick finding Krisnan Inu who was handed benefit of the doubt, with the video referees ruling he had managed to ground the ball before fumbling it over the try-line.
That effort gave Canterbury a 10-0 half-time lead; however Melbourne closed the gap early in the second stanza as Cameron Smith’s grubber found an unmarked Anthony Quinn on the left edge. And they thought they were in again soon after when Ryan Hinchcliffe forced his way over… only to be called back for an obstruction.
The missed opportunity proved costly, with Barba producing another stunning play in the 53rd minute to give his side a match-winning lead. Sweeping around the back out wide, Barba sliced through from halfway before handing Inu his second try of the afternoon.
However, his best was yet to come as Barba fielded a kick on his own dead-ball line, beat two players just to get himself back into the field of play, then raced 60 metres up-field before kicking inside for Josh Morris to score one of the tries of the year.
A total of 37 missed tackles didn’t help Melbourne’s cause and they failed to make a single line-break.
Barba’s big day out saw him run for 198 metres, make all three of his side’s line-breaks and produce a whopping 16 tackle-breaks, while Aiden Tolman was busy up front with 158 metres and 39 tackles.
Ryan Hoffman was strong for Melbourne with 146 metres from 21 runs.