When we wrote this article last year, the best moment for the Raiders was so obvious. Josh Papalii burst through the coward Damian Cook’s grasp and ended 25 years of absence and pain. It felt like there was a momentary vacuum of sound, before an explosion of noise swallowed Bruce stadium. It was collective euphoria like I’ve rarely experienced. I tried to climb Rob. I shook another mate like he had lucky charms in his pockets. It was just amazing to be there, together, with you lunatics. We’ll talk about that night for years.
This year was different (obviously). Crowds disappears and returned in a slightly different configuration. Your boy was stuck behind a closed border reminiscing about the footy and Bruce and Sunday afternoons and beers. So often rather that an expression of collective joy, the big moments were private. Usually I thumped the couch arm in happiness, hugged the dog. and kept typing notes. When I got really excited I tweeted inanities because that’s what I tweet mostly. But it’s not the same. The good things in life are best done together.
On the field the Raiders never had that singular moment that made me feel the way Papalii crashing over did. How could anything match sending god’s chosen rugby league team to the grand final they’d been absent from for 25 years? Sure there were some incredible highlights, and Big Papa chasing down Jamal Fogarty will be played on highlights and blooper packages for years to come. The victory over the Roosters the week after Josh Hodgson tore his ACL asunder was a display of hot blood and courage that jolted the Raiders season back to life like defibrillators do on TV (but not real life I’m pretty sure). And the semi-final victory over the Roosters (again) felt like suitable (if not satisfying) payback for 2019, replete with one of the great rugby league football tries you will ever see when Joe Tapine sidestepped Boyd Cordner, then Luke Keary, then palmed off Luke Keary, then palmed him off again as if to make a point.
Any of these would be a stand out moment in any Canberra season outside of 2019, so they are worthy of recall. There’s a litany of others too and if you have a favourite that I haven’t mentioned then I’m not hating. The Raiders made a prelim. In any other recent year it would be a red letter day. Such is the confidence and consistency built into this side that good moments seem to happen often. I would name them all, but then what’s the point. You came here for decisive takes, so here it is.
The best moment of the year was Sam Williams speaking to the Baby Raiders as their newly announced captain.
Ok bear with me. You’ve got to remember the circumstance. The Raiders were pretty much assured of a fifth place finish, and were giving the first string a well-earned rest after 17 travel and footy filled weeks. Sam Williams, a man that grew up in Cooma supporting the Raiders, debuted for them under the captaincy of Alan Tongue, played the best game of his life in the best Bruce Stadium moment between 1994 and 2019, was given the reigns. His steeds were a bunch of kids, most had sniffed a bit of first grade footy throughout the year, but some would only get on the field in that game (and even then for Jarrett Subloo, only for a solitary hit-up before the siren). This was a game the Raiders were essentially saying, “sure, the result doesn’t matter to us, the rest does”.
But Sam was having none of this.
His address to the side isn’t anything Churchill or Pacino (THAT’S WHAT LIVIN’ IS….THE SIX INCHES IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE!) but it was everything that Sam is. It was honest. It was measured. And it revealed that Sam not only refused to accept that the Milk were going to struggle, but that he trusted every single one of the 16 other men that would be joining him to get the job done. He instilled in them a sense of the lineage they were joining and what a prvilidgeit is to be part of.
But most of all he told them the most important thing: the good things in life are better when we do them together.
It’s a game that I’ve probably wanted to win more than I ever have. I want to stand in the sheds and sing the song and have a beer with you boys because that’s what we play the game for. It’s about being together and being a club.Sam
At that point I was ready to run out onto the field and win it for Sam. It’s the exact kind of thing you want to hear from leadership when your facing a difficult task. “I’m up for this task, and I reckon you are too. Let’s do it together.”
Of course you know how this ends. Not only did the Raiders win, but Sammy got one of the best meat pies of the year. Canberra had rested their first string for the final, won the game, and for a second looked like they might even sneak into fourth. It didn’t win them the premiership, and we’ll spend another year wondering if that will ever happen in our lifetimes (well…again).
But in that speech, and the game that followed Sam reminded us that winning is tremendous, but looking after each other, working together and achieving something great is even better.
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