Ben Barba's successful return to ANZ Stadium against his former club highlighted the size of the hole he's left at Canterbury rather than the one he's filled at Brisbane.

The one-time poster boy of Canterbury was always coming to come back and bite the club that granted him a release, but coach Des Hasler will be more concerned about what his side dished up without him in the 18-12 loss on Friday night.

While the ever-reliable Sam Perrett didn't disgrace himself, there's no doubt Hasler will be scratching his head wondering where he is going to find the spark at the back his team so desperately requires.

His halfback Trent Hodkinson is an organiser, while Josh Reynolds is a renowned runner of the football.

It's not that Barba is irreplaceable, but the role he played for Canterbury is vital to the team's success.

They need a player who can create something from nothing - capable of handling the responsibility as the team's third playmaker.

Without it the Bulldogs look disjointed and threw very few questions at the Broncos' defence despite ample opportunities close to the try line.

Much of the talk leading into the match surrounded the hostile reception Barba was poised to receive from the fans and former teammates alike.

While he was far from the man that set the competition alight two seasons ago, he left enemy territory with a smile from ear to ear after playing a part in his new side's victorious start to the year in front of another disappointing crowd (18,040) to open the season.

Hasler would have ordered his troops not to give Barba any space, and for his first touch they did exactly that.

They swarmed in on him as Faf Du Plessis described the Australian cricket team - like a pack of dogs - smothering their former teammate in a rugby-like maul trying to push him back into the in-goal area.

His first touch wasn't very productive, but his first run was a quick reminder of what he's capable of producing, getting outside of Frank Pritchard to put Lachlan Maranta into space.

Then in a harsh reminder of what the Bulldogs are missing in his absence, the man handed his old No.1 jersey, Sam Perrett, spilled a bomb on his own line to gift Brisbane first crack at points.

On a ground where he's scored 40 tries in his past 49 appearances, Barba turned provider to put Dale Copley in for the first try of the night.

It was Josh Morris' decision to rush out of the line to put pressure on his former teammate which opened up the space for Barba to grubber behind the line for a charging Copley to score out wide after six minutes.

Daniel Vidot then doubled the Broncos lead when he crashed over debutant Corey Thompson, before Ben Hunt took the Broncos out to a 14-0 lead with a penalty goal from close range.

The Bulldogs couldn't find a way through the Broncos defence, so Morris decided to go over it, leaping above the pack with a mark that was as good as anything you'll see Buddy Franklin do for the Sydney Swans this year.

Trailing 14-6 at the break, the Bulldogs scored first courtesy of a barnstorming Tony Williams, who ran over the top of Josh Hoffman to reduce the deficit to just two points.

Lock Dale Finucane should have put the Bulldogs in front but he spilled the pill with the line wide open.

Lachlan Maranta then ended Canterbury's hopes of a come-from-behind victory, scoring in the corner in the final stages of the contest.

The Broncos might have a bit to worry about when the match review committee look back at the game, with Martin Kennedy and Andrew McCullough put on report for high shots on James Graham and Mitch Brown.

Brown left the field with concussion, so too did Broncos substitute Todd Lowrie after rushing up on Pritchard and collecting his shoulder flush on the jaw.