By HAMISH NEAL
A FIVE-star performance from fullback Ben Barba with two tries in the first half helped lead Canterbury to a comfortable Monday Night Football win – and should have caught the attention of Queensland selectors.
Despite Barba’s impact in the 26-6 win over Cronulla at ANZ Stadium, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler was even-handed in his praise, noting the key forwards for special mention “People like Sammy (Kasiano) are just getting better and better,” Hasler said. “I thought Aiden Tolman (played well) and James Graham is really getting settled in and used to the grind of NRL. So some good signs there, some promising signs.”
Hasler was complimentary of the two-try hero Barba, saying he has a good representative future if called up by Queensland. “I think they‘ve got him well and truly ear-marked,” he said. ”He attended the Origin camp earlier this year. You have only got to look at some of his stats, the way he has been performing. With his ability to break the line and to score points I’m sure there is a plan in there for Ben Barba, just not this year.”
Captain Michael Ennis also had his thoughts on the 22-year old.“He has worked hard on his game since he moved to full-back,” said Ennis. “He’s a special player. There is some good fullbacks around. He is certainly one of them.”
Ennis also spoke about the second half of the match where the side only scored two points having lead 24-0 at the break. “We got a plan to stick to and it was a little bit disappointing that we didn’t,” he said. “But I was really proud of the effort tonight coming off a disappointing week against the Titans…
“We controlled possession in that first half and got ourselves into a good spot. But Cronulla are a good side and I was just really pleased with how we continued to hang in there in the second half in certain periods when they had alot of footy on our line and fought our way through that and stayed in the grind.”
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan commented: “We were still in the sheds after fifteen or sixteen minutes. They were out to an 18-0 lead and we were just off the pace. We were a bit star-struck there and we just watched them play. We knew what they were going to throw at us. We sat back and watched them do it to us. We couldn’t get control in that first half. Half-time couldn’t come quick enough.”
Flanagan did note the impact of the absence of NSW Origin five-eighth Todd Carney. “I think we really missed Todd… we handed the ball over without a kick on four occasions and got charged down twice. That was a big factor in the game. Canterbury’s kicking game was a lot better than ours. It was an important part. I think any side would miss Todd Carney and (club captain) Paul Gallen but us especially.
“Tonight was just one of those nights. We need to get over it. To this bye (next weekend), I’ve been pretty happy with what they’ve done. I’ll excuse (the performance) tonight but I won’t excuse it too often.”
Tries to Barba (seventh minute) and centre Tim Lafai (10th), saw the hosts start with flair and creativity. Barba scored after good lead-up work from Josh Reynolds and Dene Halatau which started from near halfway. Lafai went over in the right hand corner after halfback Matt Keating was involved in the lead-up before Barba threw the final pass. The video referee Chris Ward was called on to check a possible obstruction but the try stood and Bryson Goodwin’s boot made it 12-0.
The five minute period from the 20 minute mark proved pivotal with a 12 point turnaround going against the Sharks.
On 20 minutes, Cronulla missed a certain chance to score after a break from 30 metres inside their own half. Centre Colin Best broke away down the left hand flank and with Canterbury short-handed, Sharks halfback Jeff Robson failed to utilise and three-on-one opportunity in the opposite corner when he was caught by Bulldogs defender Tolman.
After nearly setting up a try the other end, Best and winger John Williams were at fault after failing to deal with a Reynolds cross-field bomb which resulted in a try to Jonathan Wright. The video referee was called to adjudge whether Wright had knocked the ball on in attempting to make the catch. However the play was given the all-clear and the lead became 18-0 after another conversion to Goodwin.
After defending well ,the Sharks conceded just on halftime when skipper Ennis engineered a smart run-around play before Reynolds produced a tidy grubber kick for Barba’s second try of the night and a 24-0 lead.
Jeremy Smith put the Sharks on the board with what turned out to be the only try of the second half. Smith collected a John Morris pass from dummy half before running a decoy play which was ruled okay by Ward in the video booth.
After the try, the Sharks had a period of sustained pressure which ultimately proved fruitless. Robson executed a series of kicks to see the Bulldogs take three goal-line drop-outs and survive four sets defending in their own 20 metre zone. Eventually the Sharks outside attackers misjudged a Robson bomb and were offside, reliving the pressure on the Bulldogs.
A penalty to Bryson Goodwin extended the lead to 20 points. In the final fifteen minutes the Bulldogs came close to scoring twice. They missed a chance to go 30-6 up after a Lafai pass was tipped forward by Barba into hands of Keating and with three minutes to play the ever-present Reynolds showed up on the wing by just failed to ground a kick from Keating.
Bar a no-try ruling from a potential score to Sharks five-eighth Wade Graham, the Bulldogs controlled the final quarter of the game comfortably.
The one blight on the night for home side were injures. Goodwin suffered a ‘stinger’ on his ribs and first-gamer for the club Luke MacDougall suffered an elbow dislocation and is expected to have an extended period on the sideline.
BULLDOGS 26 (B Barba 2 T Lafai J Wright tries B Goodwin 5 goals) bt CRONULLA 6 (J Smith try J Williams goal) ANZ Stadium. Referees: G Badger/G Sutton. Crowd: 12,012.