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Ben Barba writes for The Sunday Telegraph on behalf of ANZ Stadium
Fast forward 12 months and I have to pinch myself to make sure the past year has not been one long dream.
Because this has been the stuff of dreams . a successful season for the Canterbury Bulldogs, a Dally M Medal, a preliminary final win in front of 70,000 fans, the excitement of grand final week and now the chance to share in a premiership win with a group of very special teammates.
Growing up in Mackay with four brothers, a sister and a bunch of cousins, it was always a footy match out the back before heading upstairs to watch the big one.
Dad was always in charge of proceedings, but my brothers, Rodney, Aaron, Jeremy and Marmin, and sister, Aisha, were always glued to the action. One of my favourite grand final memories was the 2004 game the last time the Bulldogs won the title and the hit Andrew Ryan put on the Roosters' Michael Crocker.
I remember that with one minute left and the score at 1613, Crocker made a half break on the Bulldogs' 40m line but was tackled by Andrew Ryan, who was the standin skipper that day.
The tackle jolted the ball out of Crock's hands and that gave the Bulldogs their eighth premiership. I remember it was also Brad Fittler's last game.
Of course, back then, I had no idea I would be joining the Bulldogs in 2007.
I played a lot of different
positions growing up, but I always felt most comfortable at fullback. It helped that one of my favourite players was Matty Bowen, who was close to my family.
I grew up watching Matty Bowen play and he has now become a good mate of mine.
Naturally, I've also watched a fair bit of Billy Slater.
Billy is the best fullback in the
world and arguably the best footballer. He's pretty special to watch and we all know at the Bulldogs that we will have to keep a very close eye on him today.
I haven't ever tried to mould my game on another fullback.
I think it's just a case of trying to take
bits from different players and use what suits your game best.
But I've always admired how Billy Slater can turn a defensive situation into an attacking opportunity, and I guess I have
tried to develop that side of my game as well.
The Bulldogs players are looking forward to today's match. We know we are going to have tremendous crowd support in the stands as more than 83,000 fans pack in to ANZ Stadium for the big day.
CILIP Registered Charity no 313014
ISSN 1756-1086 (Online)