Come Saturday I’ll be going for the South Sydney Rabbitohs in their battle against the awful Penrith Panthers.
Now there are some pretty obvious reasons for this. I certainly won’t be going for the Panthers. It’s no fun if the same team wins all the time, and Penrith are definitely doing that. Now of course that’s because they’re probably the best non-Melbourne/Roosters team of the NRL era. I don’t have issues with how the Panthers players carry on or anything. I’d just prefer they didn’t win so much.
So sure, there’s plenty of petty jealously playing a role here. It doesn’t help that in the last few years they always punk the Raiders. During the Panthers ascendency the Milk have made a lot of noise about taking on the form team of the competition, and it’s mostly resulted in sweet f-a. Since 2019, Canberra have huffed and puffed about rivalries, arrogance, and ambushes, and then have their asses handed to them by 120-34 over four games. 26-6, 36-6, 30-10, 28-12, and really only one of those games felt like a competition. That was the 30-10 game, where the hero Charnze Nicholl-Klokstad’s 2021 was ruined by Villiame Kikau. If Jarrod Croker grounds that ball and puts the Milk up 16-0 you know maybe that whole season doesn’t fall apart. But still, it hasn’t been close lately (and didn’t end up close Jb that game), and while Canberra have tried to pretend it’s a rivalry, it’s been one sided. The Green Machine have hardly been on their radar.
So yeah, I’m hardly the Panthers number one fan. I respect them, don’t get me wrong. They play with precision and ferocity. The two don’t normally go together. They are playing at a level that teams elevate too. But goddammit I don’t want them to win, and particularly this weekend.
But there’s another reason I want the Bunnies to win: former Raider and leader of the Sipi Tau for Tonga, Siliva havili.
You might remember Liva as a key part of the Canberra Raiders from 2018 to 2021. He was always unsung at the Milk, given limited opportunities and never disappointed. He first came to the club to fill-in when Josh Hodgson’s knee cratered (no not that time, the other time…no the other, other time). Then when the god returned, he simply created a role around him, half-hooker, half-rolling ball of knives that would always be there on Hodgson’s shoulder, offering an option whenever the Englishmen spotted a gassed defender in the line.
He was so critical to the club that even when there wasn’t an actual place for him in the line-up, Coach Stuart kept trying to find places for him to play. At one point in 2021 Liva was a third hooker in the line-up with Hodgson and Tom Starling. When backrowers or outside backs got hurt he would shift to an edge, somehow defending somewhat adequately there, despite being obviously suited to the middle. He was never quite good enough, or trusted enough, to be a stand-alone rake, but what he lacked in skill he made up for with energy and effort in a team that sometimes lacked both.
In the end the lack of a true position cost him, and along the way he notably missed out on the 2019 finals run, not making the 17 on any day through that famous run. The emergence of Tom Starling, and the changing style of play saw him less valued in Canberra than he was elsewhere. Suddenly he was the utility that the Raiders didn’t need. As his time wound down it felt like he’d catch on somewhere and I just hoped it would be with a good side that would utilise his abilities to the fullest. I couldn’t have been happy for him when he signed for Souths.
The Bunnies have done exactly that. Liva has played a critical role as a backup hooker, as well as a support runner through the middle third. He’s averaged the best part of 100m a game this year, which is far and away the most output he’s put out at any point his career. Similarly he has a career high in try assists, minutes, and I’m sure a bunch of other countable stats. It reflects his effectiveness, and the trust the Bunnies have for him to do a specific but general job they need doing.
The shame of it all is that Siliva is out this weekend and won’t be able to help out the Bunnies. He’s got a sore calf, and was in a race against time to play. It’s a cruel beat for the man who missed out on the 2019 prelim and grand final.
So I’ll be going for the Bunnies this weekend in the hope that one more week is what Havili’s calf needs to be ready. And then if he wins on grand final day I’ll cheer a little louder when he gets his winners medal.
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