Canberra’s win over the Cronulla Sharks on the weekend was courageous. It took them to the edge of fatigue and beyond. It seemed like at time players were stumbling, but refusing to give up. It was inspiring. But when that kind of effort is expelled in search of victory, the question must be asked, can they do it again?
To be frank I don’t know. The Raiders got a hint of how hard it is because they beat a team that had done exactly that the weekend before. There was plenty of hyperbole following the Sharks 12 man (and sometimes 11) victory over New Zealand. They played so well in that game that it seemed like even without Will Kennedy and Jesse Ramien they were destined to beat the Milk by a cricket score. Alas they never mustered the clinical precision or admirable purpose against Canberra that they did against the Warriors.
Now there are obviously mitigating factors. Of course Kennedy and Ramien were missed, but the replacements weren’t chopped liver. Conor Tracey would start in many sides. Shifting Nicho Hynes to fullback may have made their attacking movements more clunky than normal, but it’s not like Hynes’ role changed dramatically. He still got plenty of ball at first receiver on the right. He was the primary kicker, and seemed to still be responsible for getting the side around the park. The Raiders were coming off a long rest, having played Canterbury a full 9 nights before they would face the Sharks. But the Sharks themselves had seven days rest between games, more than enough time to recover. Suspension, positional shifts and rest may have played a role but they don’t feel descriptive for Cronulla’s loss. Perhaps more importantly, the Raiders beat the living [redacted] out of them. There was a challenge of meeting Canberra’s desperation. The Sharks had spent their emotional and physical capital a week prior.
How do Canberra avoid the same fate? They too will have some change. While there will be no suspension (thankfully the Match Review Committee saw what the referee didn’t), Jack Wighton is returning, and it seems likely that Adam Elliott will too. It’s not clear what that means for Zac Woolford, who’s two try assists and solid defence were huge parts of the victory. We’ll wait to see what Team List Tuesday brings but there’s no doubt the team will look different at critical positions. The difference here is that the returning Raiders have often been the sides’ biggest source of energy. Perhaps that bodes well. They will also come off a relatively healthy full-week break. 7 days is better than nothing, but given the emotional highs of last round, we can see why it may be hard to get as pumped as they were last outing, no matter how rested they are.
One circumstance that differs between Canberra and Cronulla’s situation however, is the desperation of their seasons. Before the game against the Green Machine, the men from the Shire were sitting pretty in the top four, with little but a rabble of misfiring and inconsistent outfits below them. While they worked their proverbial off against the Warriors, that side is possibly in the worst form in the competition (goddamit how did we lose that game). Perhaps the Sharks bought their own hype. It’s easy to see how when the Milk took the game to them, their physically and emotionally weary response was to wait for next week.
Canberra have no such flexibility. Even after stringing two wins together (“win one tomorrow and that’s called a winning streak” – Coach Brown) the Milk are still outside the eight, precisely two wins better than the wooden-spoon equal Tigers and Bulldogs. Despite everything, one of those two will probably win this coming round. There also still a win out of 8, and their opposition is in the nice seats. In short, to stay afloat the Green Machine need to keep winning. They cannot believe their press. They must remain eager. Their opponent may be equally desperate – it’s hard to tell with a Bunnies team that put the cleaners through the Warriors, and then put their cues in the rack. The Raiders simply must win again – there is no alternative. Hopefully what drove their desperation last week was not sated.
This is of course is just part of the battle. A game plan that relies on pure energy isn’t sustainable. They improved in some areas on the weekend but there’s plenty of work to do. For now though, Canberra must play with similar intensity and effort for the rest of the season. The journey of a thousand steps starts one. They’ve taken that first step. Now it’s time to match it.
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