South Sydney flyer Nathan Merritt has been the toast of the NRL ever since he scored five tries against Parramatta, but Ben Barba’s been cursing his try-scoring rival all the way to the end.
Barba led the prestigious list until Merritt steamrolled the Eels in round 22 and seemingly blew him out of the race with a hat-trick against Canberra the next week.
While the Bulldogs fullback kept delivering as well, Merritt kept setting the bar higher and on Friday night against Newcastle scored a double to put a four-try gap between he and Barba.
The X-factor himself thought the dream was over, but with just four minutes left in the Bulldogs season against Canberra on Sunday, Barba crossed for his fourth of the afternoon and 23rd of the season to equal Merritt as the game’s most lethal scorer.
“Again I’ve just got to put it down to my teammates, they’ve taken it forward for me all year and I’ve scored on the back of their hard work,” he said.
“I guess I was pretty lucky today but I scored it off the back of their effort.”
While Bulldogs fans would have been cheering home either a draw or a Rabbitohs victory on Friday night, which would have kept their club in the top-eight hunt.
Barba was cheekily keeping his fingers crossed that Merritt stayed well out of the action.
It goes to show that being top of the tries, is a genuine goal for meat pie specialists.
“Yeah I was cringing every time he made a break because he was there and he got the two and I was thinking, ‘I’m no chance here’, but I was lucky today and got the four,” he said.
“I came into the game knowing I was four behind and I tried not to think about it but it was always there in the back of my mind and I guess the gods were on my side today and I got those four to equal with Nath.”
Captain Andrew Ryan continually describes him as a freak, but a modest Barba was quick to downplay his chances of getting a call-up for the end-of-season Kangaroo tour.
Barba’s first year at fullback has had its ups and downs, but you get the feeling 23 tries in 26 games is just the start of a very special career.