BRISBANE - All the hype ahead of the Bulldogs' NRL clash with Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night surrounded Ben Barba — and at the time he wasn't even playing.
But even Canterbury's last-minute injection of the controversial No.1 could not steal the limelight away from a desperate Broncos as they ran out 16-11 winners in front of 26,599 fans.
Barba was the name on everyone's lips ahead of kick-off after the NRL launched a probe into the Bulldogs' handling of his early-season suspension.
And tongues were wagging again when Barba received a late clearance for an ankle complaint and came off the bench in their final hit-out ahead of the finals.
Especially with Brisbane also sweating on the NRL investigation's outcome after recently trumpeting a three-year deal with Barba just last week.
And Brisbane would have been forgiven for hoping Barba's Broncos arrival was sooner rather than later after explosive fullback Josh Hoffman — the man expected to make way for their star recruit next year — went off with a shoulder complaint in the 25th minute.
But backrower-cum-winger Corey Oates stole the limelight, latching onto a Peter Wallace cross-field kick in the 75th minute to notch a try-scoring double and lock up the gutsy win.
It provided some solace as the Broncos drew the curtain on the worst season in their club's history.
Brisbane — who trailed 6-4 at halftime — finished with 10 wins for the season.
Their previous worst season was an 11-win effort in 2010 — a tally that resulted in then coach Ivan Henjak being sacked.
But it seems Brisbane are looking at a rosy future with Barba on board who made the most of his limited opportunities on a night both sides threw caution to the wind. Barba did not emerge from the bench until the 36th minute but showed glimpses of his 2012 Dally M Medal winning form to help set up Krisnan Inu's 66th minute try that locked up the scores at 10-10.
And the Dogs looked to have become the ultimate party poopers on veteran Brisbane pivot Scott Prince's 300th and final game when Canterbury halfback Trent Hodkinson potted over a 72nd-minute field goal to give the visitors the edge.
However, Oates crossed in the dying minutes before Prince capped a dream farewell with a sideline conversion to seal a face-saving win for Brisbane.