There have already been some riveting one-on-one battles so far this year – Shaun Johnson v Daly Cherry-Evans and Dave Taylor v Sika Manu spring to mind – but none promise quite as much excitement as this week’s Warriors-Bulldogs clash when rival fullbacks Kevin Locke and Ben Barba go head to head.
The pair have been in scintillating form so far in 2012: Locke continuing on from where he left off last season and Barba proving rock solid under the high ball as well as showing off his attacking spark.
Barba, of course, co-topped the NRL try-scoring list last season with 23 while Locke helped the Warriors reach the grand final and made his Test debut for the Kiwis – ending the year with four Tests to his name.
“It’s been hard to back up from everything that happened last year but we’ve started off pretty well,” Locke told NRL.com in the lead-up to the Bulldogs clash on Sunday. “I worked on a few things during the week last week and they paid off on the weekend.
“My goals this year are to be planning week-in, week-out and to be doing all the right things. To be playing consistent footy I guess. If I achieve that then bigger and better things will happen.”
Locke said it was crucial to the Warriors’ success this weekend that he out-performed the ever-dangerous Barba.
“I always try and do my best to outplay the other fullback,” he said. “There are times when it doesn’t happen but we’re both there to do the same job and to try and be the better fullback out there. I just go out there to do my best and try to get on top of them very early.
“He (Barba) scores some awesome tries and he is very dangerous with the ball in his hand. We’re going to have to try and get up in him fast, shut him down and not give him any space to do what he does.”
Notably, Barba averaged fewer metres against the Warriors than against any other side with just 51 metres per game compared to Locke’s average 94 metres against the Bulldogs, although their records are otherwise remarkably similar.
Barba has scored two tries from three games against the Warriors with two line-breaks and 11 tackle-breaks while Locke also boasts two tries from three games with one line-break and 12 tackle-breaks.