Phil Gould previews the NRL season
Phil Gould discusses what we can expect from the season openers and also tackles the contentious issue of concussion.PT7M16S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-341xg 620 349 March 4, 2014
Twelve months after Sonny Bill Williams faced a hostile reception from Bulldogs fans, Ben Barba can expect a similar welcome when he faces his former club for the first time on Friday night.
While a scintillating performance by Williams, where he scored two tries in the Roosters 38-0 round six win last year, helped silence his detractors, he did so in front of a home crowd. Barba won't be afforded that same luxury when he returns to ANZ Stadium for the first time as a Bronco.
Canterbury back-rower Josh Jackson said he expected Barba to receive a less than warm welcome from the Bulldogs faithful.
Hostile homecoming: Ben Barba lines up against his old club on Friday. Photo: Getty Images
“I dare say he will,” Jackson said. “I think Doggies fans are pretty passionate. There are definitely no hostilities amongst the playing group. Ben did what was best for him and his family and hopefully it works out for him.
“Hopefully he gets a warm reception. I don't know what will happen.”
The Bulldogs know that Barba at his scintillating best is near unstoppable. Coach Des Hasler had front-row seats to Barba's 2012 heroics, where he won the Dally M and helped guide the club to a grand final appearance.
Hasler described his former charge as a “danger”.
“Life goes on,” Hasler said heading into his first season at Canterbury minus Barba. “Everyone has moved on.
“It's going to be an entertaining game of footy. We'll let you media build it up and make it interesting and the boys will get out there and play.
“[Barba] is a definite player when he is on his game [and] when he is fit. He has had an off-season like everyone else. He is a dangerous player like everyone else.”
As with last season, the Bulldogs have been rocked by pre-season injuries. Krisnan Inu (broken jaw), Sam Kasiano (foot), Greg Eastwood (foot) and Drury Low (broken hand) will all miss at least the first three weeks of the season while centre Tim Lafai (broken hand) is out for the opening two games.
Sam Perrett will start in Barba's No.1 jersey while prop David Klemmer will play his first NRL game since round four last year.
The Bulldogs struggled to recover from their slow start to last year, winning only one of their opening six games with a host of stars sidelined.
The club's new co-captain Frank Pritchard said the Bulldogs were a tighter unit heading into this season.
“A big part of the team going forward is getting together away from the field,” Pritchard said. “You see a team like the Roosters who have great team bonding and they do [a lot away] from the field.
“That's what we need here. I encourage the boys to get together away from the field to get our mind off footy.
“That's how we are going to get closer and that's how we are going to win more games.”