BEN Barba played, his 2014 selection rival Josh Hoffman was gone by the time he came off the bench, and his new Brisbane team-mates secured a last-ditch victory over finals bound Canterbury.
On the opening night of round 26, former Dally M medallist made his comeback from ankle injury against the team he is joining next year and against a background of saturation coverage of claims the real reasons for him being stood down at the start of the season had been covered up.
With eight minutes to go, it looked as though he would finish the evening a winner, with Canterbury halfback Trent Hodkinson landing a field goal from in front.
But a second try for the night by winger Corey Oates ended a disappointing season – and a week in which former greats have criticised the club for its worst-ever season – on a hight.
Barba entered the contest in the 35th minute; his touted clash with 2014 selection rival Josh Hoffman never eventuated because the fullback was forced off with a shoulder injury 11 minutes earlier.
Barba initiated a spectacular 56th minute try for centre Krisnan Inu, offloading in heavy traffic to Josh Jackson, who in turn found centre Krisnan Inu.
Inu seemed to have been rounded up by the Broncos defence – but Jack Reed and Corey Oates collided and Inu streaked away to score, making it 10-10 with 23 minutes left.
Playing his final game, Brisbane halfback Scott Prince got involved early when he bundled Canterbury winger Mitch Brown over the touchline in the 14th minute when he looked certain to score in the north-western corner.
Three minutes later, there tempers flared when Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds appeared to be third man into a tackle. The challenge was reminiscent of a “prowler’ tackle and Broncos players rushed in before calm was restored by the referees.
There was no report, however – just a penalty to Brisbane. Winger Corey Oates, who had scored six tries in his eight first grade appearances, subsequently went close to scoring.
Then came the departure of Hoffman, after a tackle by Krisnan Inu.
Brisbane continued to hammer the Bulldogs line, with only some heroic defence repelling Jack Reed, who later fumbled over the tryline.
Reynolds skipped into the clear at the 27-minute mark, with the match still scoreless, but his pass to Josh Morris went to ground.
It was only a temporary setback for the no.6. At 28 minutes, threw a dummy and glided past some threadbare defence to score the first try of the match, which Trent Hodkinson coverted from 10 metres in from touch.
The shoulder charge rule was debated again when Oates raced into the clear down the eastern touchline with only Morris to beat. The custodian body-checked him, as cover defenders have been doing in that situation for a century, and was duly penalised for a shoulder charge.
Captain Sam Thaiday tapped the ball deftly onto winger Lachlan Maranta as the Broncos attacked following that penalty, but the Bulldogs’ defence was equal to the task.
However, a quick spread from right to left saw Broncos halfback Ben Hunt bomb the south-eastern corner and Oates finally claimed his seventh try, which went unconverted.
After halftime, there was comedy from Canterbury captain Michael Ennis after referee Gavin Badger warned the Dogs about repeated infringements.
“Thankyou Gavin, I appreciate your feedback,” said the hooker. “Can I just say I appreciate your feedback?”
But after Brisbane hit the front, when England centre Reed claimed Ben Hunt’s grubber kick in the 50th minute, Ennis was not as calm. He remonstrated with Badger about the Broncos’ delaying tactics in the ruck as Prince placed the ball for what was ultimately a successful conversion.
BRISBANE 16 (C Oates 2 J Reed tries S Prince 2 goal) bt CANTERBURY 11 (J Reynolds K Inu tries T Hodkinson goal field goal) at Suncorp Stadium. Referees: G Badger/A Shortall. Crowd: 26,599.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD