Ben Barba's influence was significant as the Broncos celebrated a hard-fought win over the Bulldogs on Friday night. Copyright: Col Whelan/NRL Photos Credit: Col Whelan/NRL Photos Copyright: Col Whelan/NRL Photos
The harder the Bulldogs tried, the further they got down the field, the more it became evident: they could've done with an attacking weapon like Ben Barba on Friday night.
In the end, Brisbane escaped with an 18-12 heart-stopper, but their new No. 1 certainly wasn't at his Dally M best. He wasn't even close. As far as season-opening games go against the club he left in the lurch last season, however, the re-born Bronco did enough in the crucial moments to be a difference-maker in the game.
"I hid [my nerves] pretty well," he said in the post-match press conference. "I was pretty nervous. But I was just happy we got the win and we can move on from here."
It was a baptism of fire, too. He was monstered by James Graham with his first touch, showing quick reflexes to field a grubber close to the line. But he half-split the defence with his next touch, accelerating 20 metres before being dragged down just as he was about to burst clear.
"That was what probably helped me along with my nerves," he said. "To get a touch in early and get the ball in my hands."
But if that first receive was special, then his quick thinking to set up the Broncos' first try was magical. Moving quickly enough to evade a rushing Josh Morris, the former Bulldog then calculated a neat grubber for centre Dale Copley in the right corner.
The 24-year-old was involved again in Brisbane's second try, linking with halfback Ben Hunt to create space for a Daniel Vidot four-pointer down the left.
"I thought in the first half I did a few good things," Barba said.
"I was quiet in the second half, but it was my first game of football in a while so I wanted to get in there and get the metres in my legs for the full 80 minutes."
So far, coach Anthony Griffin's experiment in switching Barba between fullback and five-eighth in attack and defence looks a promising one. Josh Hoffman, wearing the No.6, had some decent moments too, but Griffin insists they are well of the pace of what's required.
"I think for all of us in attack, clearly we've got some work to do," Griffin said. "We didn't get our hands on the ball in the last trial, so we wasted that one. We spent the day chasing the Warriors. We had our moments, but I thought he (Barba) did a good job there. He defended great. He made a couple of inroads a couple of times. He'll build off that."
In the end, it was Barba's few moments of brilliance that separated the two sides in what Griffin described as a slog-fest. Broncos co-captain Corey Parker, who played all but 10 minutes of the game in his first match at prop, probably summed it up best:
"It's great from my angle [having Ben]. It's good to have someone with that x-factor back there that can worry [the] defence," he said. "I've played against Ben a number of times and he keeps you guessing most times, so it's nice to have him on our side."