Bulldogs 32 Tigers 20
Stay down ... Adam Blair is tackled by Sam Kasiano. Photo: Steve Christo
HE has been a try-saver this season and has scored some miraculous ones into the bargain. But Bulldogs fullback Ben Barba proved he could be a provider as well last night.
Just for good measure, Barba scored one as well, but it was his ability to set up tries last night that was truly eye-catching.
Sam Perrett runs the ball. Photo: Steve Christo
Barba was superb in the second half, having a hand in three tries while scoring the other, while centre Josh Morris backed up from his heroics in the State of Origin on Wednesday night with two himself.
The Tigers battled gamely, but the Bulldogs, fresh after the bye, were always likely to finish stronger, especially after the Tigers lost winger Lote Tuqiri to a suspected fractured arm after only eight minutes.
The opening was all about busted wings. The Tigers had started without one of their originally named wingers, and by eight minutes in they had lost another. Matt Utai had failed to start the game because of a hamstring injury, replaced by Joel Reddy, but then when Tuqiri went down, they were forced into even more drastic changes; Liam Fulton was shifted to the centres.
Dogs best the cats.
The Bulldogs' Krisnan Inu takes an almighty punt. Photo: Steve Christo
Yet it was Reddy who struck first. Marshall had kicked and several Bulldogs players were on hand to clean it up but, unfortunately, that was the problem. Each of them looked at each other like they were stepping out of a lift, waiting for the other to walk out first, as Reddy swept through to steal it off all of them.
What followed was a rather calamitous period, when both teams struggled to hold onto the ball. The Tigers were still on top, and were feeling so confident that, after a 27th-minute penalty just left of the posts, they opted to take on the defence once more. Confidence has long been a blessing for the Tigers but also sometimes a curse. On this occasion it was the latter; the Bulldogs rumbled up the other end and centre Josh Morris used strength and stretch to score in traffic.
But with the half closing down, Morris had the ball stolen from him by Ben Murdoch-Masila, one of the defenders who had been embarrassed by the NSW representative earlier. That gave the Tigers the chance to end the half as they had started it: on top. Marshall again provided the assist, but all credit to the tryscorer Beau Ryan, who like Reddy earlier had no right to score. Ryan stuck his right arm out and managed to drag the ball in and score.
Pulling the stings ... Ben Barba. Photo: Steve Christo
The Bulldogs were rusty, yet they were typically disciplined, which kept them in the contest. When they got going, they looked superb. Only a minute into the second half, Barba combined with Morris again to give five-eighth Josh Reynolds a try. Then just five minutes later, the pair produced another piece of brilliance; Barba's sublime offload at speed put Morris over for his second.
The Tigers were tiring but they are always dangerous when they fall behind. Centre Chris Lawrence brought them back to within two points with a try in the left corner, but the Bulldogs' reply was almost instantaneous. Barba, sick of setting them up, decided to go himself close to the hour mark.
Yet neither side was able to wrestle the momentum for any extended period. The Bulldogs were on top, but they handed some cheap possession over when Dale Finucane was penalised for an incorrect play-the-ball. Replacement hooker Masada Iosefa scored on the same spot that Lawrence had and, this time, Marshall nailed the sideline conversion.
But the Bulldogs looked the stronger side in the second half. They scored next through centre Krisnan Inu, who continued his golden run since his move from the Warriors. But who handed him the ball? Who else?
BULLDOGS 32 (J Morris 2 J Reynolds 2 B Barba K Inu tries K Inu 4 goals) bt WESTS TIGERS 20 (M Iosefa C Lawrence J Reddy B Ryan tries B Marshall 2 goals) at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Gavin Morris, Jason Robinson. Crowd: 19,034.