Bulldogs can’t win the premiership without Barba
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs rugby league player Ben Barba and Ainslie Currie arrive for the Dally M awards in Sydney, September 4, 2012. (Image: AAP/Paul Miller)
Callous as it may sound after Ben Barba’s personal tragedy was revealed this week, I’d like to switch the focus to the Bulldogs and their chances of claiming the title that narrowly eluded them last season.
Can they afford to be without their prime attacking spearhead in their quest for 2013 honours?
To be brutally honest, I think their efforts will be admirable but ultimately in vain.
Barba, the superstar fullback, was the Bulldogs jack-in-the-box last year. Collectively, the team was capable of making a sonic boom but with the BB gun igniting the attack from the rear, that boom became supersonic, more often than not.
Sure, one player does not make a team, but this one – the NRL’s best performer in 2012 – was the icing on the cake.
He did things that few players can do on a football field. And he did them pretty much every week.
As a colleague wrote the other day, he scored tries for fun . . .
Blistering speed, an instinctive sidestep or swerve, the ability to spot where the gaps will appear and be there when they do, courage under the high ball and true grit in one-on-one defence – Ben Barba had the lot.
It is desperately sad to learn that Barba’s life has been rocked to the foundations by a broken relationship involving two children and a string of vices said to include alcohol and gambling.
I believe that the young man is in the very best hands. Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg, Head Coach Des Hasler and the Dogs’ player group will do whatever it takes to help him back to good mental health, and hopefully, his former self.
If he does what he needs to do personally, and puts his future in their hands, this group will help Barba back to where he belongs, and needs to be.
Can the club come up with a suitable replacement for their exceptional No 1?
My sources say that Steve Turner, Sam Perrett, Mitch Brown and a little-known youngster from Canberra, Drury Low, will come into the picture, but it won’t be the same.
Canterbury, in my opinion, will be a very solid combination this year but an outfit that lacks its X-factor.
Take Billy Slater out of Melbourne, Johnathan Thurston out of North Queensland or Benji Marshall out of the Wests Tigers and you have good teams, but potentially not great.
The bookies have eased the Bulldogs in the premiership betting, such is the attacking potency and unpredictability lost with Barba ‘suspended,’ at least for the first six to 10 weeks of the competition.
I am guessing that the Dogs will be in position to win some close games but fail to get the chocolates with their uncanny X-Man watching either from the stand, or on the box.
This week’s news saddened me. The two guys I like watching most in the NRL are Manly’s Brett Stewart and Barba. In the modern game, fullbacks are the new halfbacks – they win or at least turn games on their solo brilliance.
As I said earlier, I don’t think the Bulldogs can carry this burden well enough to win the comp. Maybe Barba comes back in say, round 10 or 12, and produces some blinding flashes that we grew to love from him in 2012.
I hope that is the case for Ben, his young family and the Dogs, in that order.
Cagey coach Des Hasler will already be evolving a plan to take on the competition’s best without his primary attacking weapon.
It will want to be good. Ben Barba, in the flashiest of seasons, showed he was the equal or better of any player in the NRL.
Is he irreplaceable in 2013? I think so.