South Sydney coach Michael Maguire is resigned to Canterbury superstar Ben Barba having an impact on Saturday’s NRL preliminary final, but isn’t making any special plans to stop him.
Barba has flourished this season under Des Hasler, who’s turned him from an exciting but defensively suspect fullback into the league’s player of the year.
The 2012 campaign has been littered with Barba highlights and his performances helped the Bulldogs claim a first minor premiership since 1994 – earning him the Dally M Medal in the process.
Barba scored a try in Canterbury’s 23-18 win over Souths when the sides last met in round 13, but was largely subdued when the Rabbitohs prevailed 20-10 in the side’s first meeting in April.
And Maguire is aware of what’s required from his team to keep the 23-year-old in check and reach a first grand final in 41 years.
“He’s going to come into the game at some stage,” Maguire said.
“You’ve just got to make sure you’re working together to nullify what he throws at you.
“If you kick the ball down to him on the full, he’s going to bring it back with speed and he’s going to have support there.
“Everyone knows what the players are capable of doing and it’s a matter of making sure that you’re concentrating on those periods.”
Souths recovered well from the lesson handed to them by a red-hot Melbourne in the opening round of the finals to comfortably beat Canberra last week.
The victory co-coincided with Maguire’s decision to restore bad-boy hooker Issac Luke to the starting line-up.
A three-match suspension for a dangerous tackle on Sydney Roosters centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall in round 19 was followed by a week-long spell in reserve grade for the Kiwi rake after he broke a team curfew.
But he was back to his best in the 38-16 win over the Raiders with Nathan Peats dropping back to the bench to accommodate Luke and Maguire was delighted with his response.
“Issac came in and did his job really well for the team,” he said.
“I was really impressed. He understood what we’re creating here and he’s a part of a culture that we’re building here.
“He bounced back and he’s performed the way he should.”