Ah yes, an early season swoon. A chaos wrought through poor planning, small sample sizes and the reaping of what has been sewn for years now. It’s so familiar that I won’t even get off the couch to say hi. Soon enough it comes and settles in its place, its shadow in my face and puts pressure on the day. This season, well it’s slipping right through our hands.
This is hardly a new experience. Mostly it happens a little later, so at least this time we’re being efficient. But we’ve been here before. Look at the fan pages. The anger is palpable, but it’s hardly surprised. Change this. Do that. Belieeeeeve in the boys! The beats are so indistinguishable from previous years that I’m half expecting someone to call for Blake Austin to move to fullback. I’m not immune to it. When things go haywire I write my heart out. We’re all processing the frustration in different ways.
Two losses to start the season hurt. There’s no doubt about it. The results are so close they make the process they occurred through all the more frustrating. The Raiders weren’t that far off. If only they had more collective brain power than a poorly-peeled potato. If only they had a redzone attack to speak of. We’re a few smart plays from taking two games on the road in Queensland and starting to look at accommodation around Homebush in early October.
The defence has been good. Proper good. One try has been scored against 13 men that hasn’t come from the chaos of a punted to a fifty-fifty contest on a hope and a prayer. At some point the ball will bounce the other way….right? The middles have earned their way down the field, and all our worries about Corey Horsburgh and Emre Guler have evaporated like the hot air they were. Ata Mariota looked tremendous until his arm failed to cooperate. Even Smell in the middle and Corey Harawira-Naera on the edge has worked for the most part.
There are foundations. So it’s not like they spent all off-season achieving nothing. There’s the frame of the house there, it’s just that we’re sitting there with no walls asking our neighbours not to tell anyone we live like this. Losing two games in a season in Queensland mug and mud should hardly cause us all to start acting like the boat is going down and Ricky isn’t going to let us on the floating door that is clearly big enough for two people Rose…
But the faults, man….the faults have been gruesome and destructive. The Canberra kick defence has been more dodgeball than clean up. Sometimes it’s positioning but sometimes people are just making errors. However it gets there it’s been so easily exploited that the idea that the Milk can just hope it will get better feels like a strategy more akin to a river in Egypt (I’m so, so, so sorry) than rugby league. Saying it needs fixing understates the urgency. This is a five-alarm chilli fire. It’s time to start drinking wax and talking to dogs.
Similarly with the attack. The Raiders can talk about teams scoring lucky tries against them, but they too have had their share of fortune in manufacturing points. They look like a team with no plan. No structure. Just failed ideas and hopes and dreams. There’s been no central thrust or identity to how they are building their score. Just a pass and a hope that maybe a middle forward can run through 8 defenders on their own. It may well be our best way to the line, but would it kill us to try something with a bit more width? When neither of your nine’s can pass further than three feet, I guess maybe it’s a bridge too far.
And now there are tough games coming. Canberra have their hardest month of the draw. Three games against potential top four sides (depending on how you rate the Broncos’ early season form). The Knights are in the middle of all that, but the next time the Raiders find an easy win against Newcastle will be the first time since Brett Mullins burnt a path through Marathon stadium on a cold night in 1994 (my god remember how he not once, but twice ran through the entire team to score 100m tries in one game? That’s the kind of shit small child Dan used to fantasise about doing and this man was doing it at the highest level of his game. We may never see another Brett Mullins). Maybe call it an opportunity to prove this two weeks were the fluke and beat all and sundry. A man can dream.
It’s not season on the line stuff yet. Canberra were two-and-five and three-and-six last year and still game good. That did take a historic collapse that would be hard pressed to see coming again from someone else. But given how the Milk are 3/5s from a good side maybe a bit of familiarity is what they need. A comfortable bed, a hug and a knowing smile from the people that care. An idea what to do in the attacking twenty. They’d all be welcome now.
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