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Full-backs' duel crucial


Stathi Paxinos

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NRL Grand Final preview

No doubt it will be a very tactical game, but which of these two very different teams will have the goods on the day.

PT0M0S 620 349

IT IS the match-up of today's NRL grand final that has the fans of both Melbourne Storm and Canterbury excited. The battle between the past two Dally M medallists, the Storm's Billy Slater (2011) and the Bulldogs' Ben Barba (2012), to be the most influential player of the grand final.

Both men can change the course of a game in a breath, highlighted this season by Barba's remarkable long-range runs and tries.

But former Bulldogs great Greg Brentnall, who has worked at the Storm since the club's inception in 1998, believes Slater, who some regard as the best full-back to have played the game, has the advantage in terms of experience, defence and versatility.

Billy Slater and Ben Barba.

Billy Slater and Ben Barba. Photo: Marco Del Grande

''You're talking about a player who has played [more than] 200 games and performed at the top level for 10 years including state of origin and Kangaroos, up against Barba who has had a wonderful year, he's been sensational, but he's played [far fewer games, 79] at the top level and he hasn't represented [state or country] and hasn't played in big games, which I suppose is a huge advantage for Billy,'' Brentnall said.

''They're both wonderful players. I genuinely get excited when I see both of them play. I enjoy what they do and what they bring to the game as attacking players.

''Billy brings more to a team environment in a big game because he's such an all-round player now and he works just as hard off the ball as he does when he's got the ball in his hands.


''He saves more tries than he scores and gives so much to the team with his direction from behind whereas Barba is brilliant individually and has been wonderful all year but I just don't think he brings as much to the team.

''They're both the X-factors in the game, they're both capable of scoring long-range tries and doing brilliant things with the footy in their hands.

''The Storm will try and nullify or limit the opportunities that Barba will get whereas with Billy it's a bit harder because he's never far away from being involved in the game. He doesn't just play one dimensionally, he's got so many different strings to his bow that he's very hard to keep out of the play.''

Former Storm winger Steve Turner, whose third season with the Bulldogs was ended earlier this year by a knee injury, agreed that Barba had ''a long way to go to be up there alongside Billy, because Billy's someone whose done it for a long period of time''.

''He's only a young kid but he's certainly shown a lot this year, what he's more than capable of doing, and hopefully that's something that he will continue to do as the years go on,'' Turner said.

Gary Belcher, who Brentnall said was the forerunner of Slater's running and ball-playing style, does not agree that Barba has a lesser all-round game.

''Benny Barba's got a kicking game, he's got a good passing game, he links with his outside men, sure his running game is his main feature, but Billy's best feature is his speed and his running game but he had those other options that he can use,'' Belcher said. ''I certainly wouldn't say Ben Barba's not an all-round player.

''They're more than just a player who stands at the back and diffuses bombs and tackles when the other team breaks through. They're a lot more to the game. If you haven't got a good full-back creating the extra man every time you've got the football you're behind the eight ball from the start.''

Belcher said players such as Slater, Barba and South Sydney's Greg Inglis could do anything with full-back play.

''It's pretty hard to top what Billy's doing at the moment, what Benny Barba's doing at the moment and what Greg Inglis can do,'' Belcher said. ''I don't know how it's going to change [but] the game has a way of continuing to develop and some coach or some player will come up with something amazing.''


The battle between the man regarded as arguable the best full-back of all time (Slater) and his heir apparent
(Barba) is shaping as one of the most eyecatching of the grand final.

The Dally M medallists for the past two years (Slater 2011, Barba 2012) are in fine form and are the most feared runners in the game. Slater has slowly rebuilt his form following a knee injury while Barba has removed the flaws that previously blighted his game.

The two opposing captains have different approaches to their games.

Smith is the calm, calculated competitor, who does not allow many things, or opponents, to fuss him. The Storm is a lesser team without him on the field. His runs from dummy half will test the big Bulldogs forwards.

Ennis is an abrasive hooker who plays on emotion. Once regarded as one of the most disliked players on the field, it has been said that the captaincy has improved his temperament.

The battle of the halves will go a long way to determining who will win. It will pit big-game experience against
youthful exuberance.

Reynolds and Keating have brightened the competition with their "have a go" mentality and it has paid off for Canterbury. However, questions will be raised as to whether they can hold it together under the pressure of a grand final.

The Storm has the experienced Cronk and Widdop. While Cronk is the on-field general, Widdop provides
a handy playmaking option on the opposite side of the field.

Bulldogs 1st, 18-6 (40 points)
Storm 2nd, 17-7 (38 points)
Bulldogs d Manly 16-10
Storm d South Sydney 24-6
Bulldogs d South Sydney 32-8
Storm d Manly 40-12
Bulldogs 15, Storm 14
Bulldogs d Storm 20-4,
Virgin Australia Stadium
(Mackay), rd 16, 2012
(most recent game first)
Bulldogs W W L W W,
Storm W W W W W
Bulldogs $2.10, Storm
$1.75 (TAB Sportsbet)

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BRI 6vs SOU 36 Report Stats
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PAR 42vs MAN 12 Report Report Stats
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NEW 24vs NZW 14 Report Stats
GCT 18vs WST 19 Report Stats
NQL 4vs SYD 28 Report Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN 24vs CBY 18 Report Stats
CRO 20vs CBR 24 Report Stats
Mon, 09 MarTimes shown AEDT
STG 4vs MEL 12 Report Stats
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Round 2
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
CBY 32vs PAR 12 Report Stats
CRO 2vs BRI 10 Report Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
PEN 40vs GCT 0 Report Stats
MAN 24vs MEL 22 Stats
NQL 14vs NEW 16 Report Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU 34vs SYD 26 Stats
CBR 6vs NZW 18 Report Stats
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WST 22vs STG 4 Stats
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Round 3
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MAN 12vs CBY 16 Report Stats
BRI 44vs NQL 22 Report Stats
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NZW 29vs PAR 16 Report Stats
CBR 20vs STG 22 Report Stats
MEL 36vs CRO 18 Report Stats
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
SOU 20vs WST 6 Report Stats
GCT 18vs NEW 20 Report Stats
Mon, 23 MarTimes shown AEDT
SYD 20vs PEN 12 Report Stats
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Round 4
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PAR 29vs SOU 16 Report Stats
WST 24vs CBY 25 Report Stats
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NEW 26vs PEN 14 Report Stats
CRO 22vs GCT 24 Report Stats
STG 12vs MAN 4 Report Stats
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
NZW 16vs BRI 24 Report Stats
SYD 34vs CBR 6 Report Stats
Mon, 30 MarTimes shown AEDT
NQL 18vs MEL 17 Stats
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Round 5
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
CBY 17vs SOU 18 Report Stats
GCT 16vs BRI 26 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MAN 16vs CBR 29 Report Stats
NEW 0vs STG 13 Report Stats
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SYD 12vs CRO 20 Report Stats
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PAR 6vs WST 22 Report Stats
MEL 30vs NZW 14 Report Stats
PEN 10vs NQL 30 Report Stats
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Round 6
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 22vs SYD 18 Report Stats
CRO 22vs NEW 6 Report Stats
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NZW 32vs WST 22 Report Stats
PEN 22vs MAN 12 Report Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
CBR 10vs MEL 14 Report Stats
STG 31vs CBY 6 Report Stats
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SOU 12vs NQL 30 Report Stats
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Round 7
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CBY 28vs MAN 16 Report Stats
STG 12vs BRI 10 Report Stats
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NQL 28vs NZW 24 Report Stats
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WST 22vs CBR 30 Report Stats
NEW 22vs PAR 28 Report Stats
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Round 8
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CBY 14vs WST 38 Stats
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NEW 24vs NQL 26 Report Stats
SYD 12vs STG 14 Report Stats
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BRI 28vs PAR 16 Stats
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PEN 26vs CRO 18 Stats
SOU 22vs CBR 30 Stats
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Round 9
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BRI 8vs PEN 5 Report Stats
SYD 36vs WST 4 Stats
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CBR 56vs GCT 16 Stats
CRO 16vs NZW 20 Stats
NQL 23vs CBY 16 Stats
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MAN 30vs NEW 10 Stats
PAR 10vs MEL 28 Stats
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SOU 16vs STG 10 Stats
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Round 10
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
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NQL 31vs BRI 20 Stats
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PAR 13vs NZW 17 Report Stats
GCT 22vs CRO 23 Report Stats
MEL 16vs SOU 12 Stats
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STG 32vs CBR 18 Report Stats
NEW 22vs WST 12 Stats
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Round 11
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
SOU 14vs PAR 12 Report Stats
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WST 0vs NQL 8 Report Stats
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CBR 34vs CBY 41 Stats
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Round 12
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GCT 16vs SOU 22 Report Stats
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STG 42vs CRO 6 Stats
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MEL 22vs PAR 26 Report Stats
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MEL 12vs BRI 14 Report Stats
Mon, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
STG 14vs SYD 19 Report Stats
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Round 16
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BRI 44vs NEW 22 Stats
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NQL 18vs CRO 24 Report Stats
PAR 16vs STG 12 Report Stats
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WST 12vs PEN 35 Stats
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Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
PEN 20vs SOU 6 Report Stats
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MAN 28vs CRO 16 Report Stats
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WST 16vs PAR 28 Stats
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Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CBR 36vs NEW 22 Stats
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CBY 8vs BRI 16 Stats
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CRO 28vs STG 8 Report Stats
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MAN 28vs SOU 8 Stats
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PEN 24vs NZW 10 Stats
SYD 28vs PAR 18 Stats
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CBR 24vs MAN 26 Stats
CBY 36vs GCT 14 Report Stats
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Round 24
Thu, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
STG 19vs PEN 12 Report Stats
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SOU 18vs CBY 32 Report Stats
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
CRO 40vs WST 18 Report Stats
NZW 16vs NQL 50 Report Stats
SYD 12vs BRI 10 Report Stats
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
GCT 28vs CBR 12 Stats
MAN 16vs PAR 20 Report Stats
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MEL 6vs NEW 20 Report Stats
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Round 25
Thu, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
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NEW 18vs CBY 20 Stats
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GCT 28vs STG 26 Stats
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