A mighty second-half defensive effort allowed Brisbane to open their 2014 NRL season with a hard-earned victory, holding off Canterbury 18-12 at ANZ Stadium on Friday.
A Lachlan Maranta try, awarded by video referee Henry Perenara, after he overruled on-field official Shayne Hayne four minutes from time clinched the two points for the visitors – who recorded their first win at this venue since 2008.
It was a sweet return to Sydney for Ben Barba, who was jeered by the home supporters who used to worship him with every touch, in an entertaining encounter in front of another disappointing crowd of 18,040.
Barba’s first touch was a trademark step, shimmy and blistering burst of pace to race past three Bulldogs players and towards the halfway line.
He then set up the opening try with a perfect grubber-kick into the grateful arms of Dale Copley and the centre scored.
Anthony Griffin’s side increased their advantage when former Canberra and St George Illawarra winger Daniel Vidot lunged over on his Brisbane debut with skipper Corey Parker adding the extras.
A Parker penalty stretched the lead to 14-0 with the visitors well in control and looking promising in attack.
However, some mediocre kicking from young halfback Ben Hunt allowed the Bulldogs to slowly claw their way back with skipper Michael Ennis and Josh Reynolds both going close to scoring.
The hosts finally put themselves on the board just before halftime when NSW star Josh Morris hauled in a Trent Hodkinson kick.
The four points came after a penalty against Martin Kennedy, the front-rower put on report for a high shot on James Graham.
Hodkinson’s kick reduced the deficit to 14-6 at the break and the Bulldogs came charging out of the blocks after the restart.
Led by Graham and Frank Pritchard, the Bulldogs’ giant pack started to rumble as the visitors found themselves on the back foot and desperately defending their line.
Tony Williams finally breached their defences on the hour mark when he barrelled over from close range.
Pritchard then sent back-rower Todd Lowrie back to the sheds with a huge shot, with the back-rower coming off second-best after racing out of the line to make the tackle.
The Bulldogs set up camp in the final third of the field but Griffin’s side showed character to hold on.
Dale Finucane should have scored, but dropped the ball with the line at his mercy and Ennis was held up by five yellow jerseys.
A welcome penalty allowed Brisbane to clear the line and, buoyed by their defensive heroics, Maranta raced over in the right corner, with Perenara ruling Hayne’s call for obstruction did not disadvantage the Bulldogs.
“It’s was emotional coming back and it is out of the way now,” Barba told the Nine Network.
“I wanted to start the game confidently and get a bit of a break to settle the nerves. It was nice to come away with a win.”