A week ago Canberra were a mess. The loss to the Panthers had been draining – the second part of a two-week collapse and the Raiders had looked listless. Undoubtedly circumstances had stood against them but the performance had felt confused. Without a plan, and without belief. A week later that formula was inverted. In this game the Green Machine had belief, and the plan followed. A 20-14 victory over the competition leading Brisbane Broncos followed. Ted Lasso would be proud.
If it was a victory built in the best image of this team, it was hardly pretty. The Raiders didn’t win by blowing the Broncos off the park. They just competed. Fought for every ruck. Chased every loose ball. Refused to give up on a play. I lost count of the number of players that ended up in some physical battle in that game, won a ruck, possession or some other minor prize, and emerged, jersey torn but satisfied that they’d given their all. This was a team imbued with a grit to be the most desperate dog in the fight, and boy did they have that dog in them.
Effort is always hard to quantify but we could see so many moments where the willingness to fight every battle was critical to success. Every small moment that required a small effort that may have gone unnoticed was fully committed to. The middle defence was battled in contact, and worked off the ball to cover across on Broncos halves trying to step inside the edge defence. When their opposition turned offloads into the kind of broken play that had torn them apart last week, the Milk kept pushing up, kept pushing out, and kept making tackles (helped by Seb Kris being in better position for kicks). The kick chase was sound all game, and meant the damage caused by Reece Walsh’s brilliance was kept to a minimum.
If any moment showed the willingness of the Milk to give every ion of their energy, it was late in the first half when Hudson Young pushed through to put pressure on the Adam Reynolds kick. He was too successful, so much so that Reynolds abandoned the kick and spread the ball wide. Somehow Young chased back from two metres past where the Broncos’ captain was meant to kick the ball from, made a critical tackle on a streaking Selwyn Cobbo, who offloaded, only to be brought down by an extra effort from Corey Horsburgh helping across from marker – a good 30 metres away.
This commitment meant that the ability of their middles to match it with a very good pack wasn’t wasted. This was critical to the victory. Canberra didn’t so much win the middle as not lose it, and when the opposition has Payne Haas and Pat
Cummins Carrigan at the front and a back three capable of turning nothing into pain very quickly, this was impressive. Josh Papalii (13 hit ups for 153m) was reliable, taking every tough carry and making it work. Hudson Young (13 for 126m) played with the energy of two people, taking hard carries in the middle before jumping out to an edge where he got few opportunities. Pasami Saulo seems to have more impact in intangibles than he does in statistics, but he too played a role here, particularly in defence.
Most interesting was the role of Corey Horsburgh. We’ve noted his efforts on both sides on the ball. That he only had 88 metres on the ground seems to understate how important his carries were. In addition he played a critical role as a link passer through the middle. We’ve seen him play this role before, but in this game it was pronounced and important. His ability to dig into the line and hit the halfback was critical in attracting the defence in that created the space for Seb Kris to wander into on Canberra’s first try. It wasn’t the only time he did it, but it was the most noteworthy.
In among this was Zac Woolford, again proving that he should be the Milk’s first choice rake. He played smartly around the ruck with the forwards, and even used his feet to create the break that would become an Albert Hopoate try. His long passing through the middle allowed width to be easily brought to to the Raiders attack. This allowed Horsburgh to play this link role, and meant edge ball players like Kris, Fogarty or Schneider weren’t always having to make decisions with defenders already in their pockets. Canberra’s second try was Jordan Rapana crashing over out of sheer will, but it started with a long pass from Woolford to Fogarty and easy passing through the hands to Timoko to make a strong run down the right edge. He did have one moment of over-eagerness with crash balls, but was taken off right after. Maybe Sticky doesn’t like them after all?
Behind all this was a back three that did all the hard work and a halfback that took control of the side. It’s arguably Fogarty’s best game as a Raider. He took on the line when he could, kicked smartly all game, and looked comfortable as the fulcrum of the offence. The right side attack looked effective again, something that appeared with a victory in Melbourne last year but inexplicably disappeared this year. Matt Timoko will be excited. Defensively the Broncos lined him up to take advantage. But he was having none of that.
This was sound footy and even an improvement. With Woolford and Horsburgh involved the shifts looked cleaner. Seb Kris looked more comfortable when he had a bit more space to work with out the back. One might even say there was a bit more ambition (though always space for more). Fogarty’s intelligent play meant that it felt like Canberra mightn’t be in a three-way fight between themselves and their opposition.
It wasn’t perfect. They still gave away some mind-numbing late set penalties (though wow, the whistle was tight for them) and dropped too much ball. Seb Kris and Albert Hopoate both failed to clean up kicks and it caused a try. It wasn’t until late in the game when the middles found a way to stop Haas getting to his offload. As well as the middles did in reducing the space for the Broncos playmakers to work, Walsh still put both Brad Schneider and Jarrod Croker in a blender at times. He blew one try, and created another. They managed to curtail his impact, but it could have been worse.
In the sweet clean air of victory it may be tempting to see these endemic issues as fixed, but that wasn’t the case. Rather they were overcome through a mixture of courage and determination. While we castigated the coach for the negative side of this last week, the stubborn character of the team that led them to overcome this was also built in his image. Ricky Stuart may not be the world’s most innovative coach, but even wounded his teams will fight like Maximus entering the Colosseum for the last time.
The only tempering of the elation this victory has brought is the cold light of next Sunday. Like before the Knights match Canberra have an opportunity, at home, to put the mess of the last few weeks behind them and enter the bye not just off the bottom but competing for the eight. The Raiders get Jack Wighton back next week, and maybe Joe Tapine. They are a week closer to Xavier Savage, Nic Cotric and Ata Mariota. They must continue their marginal improvements and maintain their character. Lose next week and this week is nothing but a happy refrain, a solace from the drums of chaos for a brief relief. It becomes a sole star in a dark universe. I hope instead they light up like the sun. The resolve, the mettle, the spirit showed in this game is intoxicating. One hopes it’s not a one off.
Courage isn’t having the strength to go on. It’s going on despite not having the strength to. The Raiders didn’t win this game because they fixed their problems in a week, though they did improve. They won because they took their knocks, dusted themselves off and stared down reality like the coward it is. They are not now a good team, though they can still be. But they are a courageous one. And that might be all that matters right now.
Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can however like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or share this on social media. Don’t hesitate to send us feedback (email@example.com) or comment below if you think we are stupid. Or if we’re not
Interested in your thoughts of fRicky not playing Hola at all drspite the team clearly out on their fedt near the end? It didnt hurt us in the end (outside slightly better points diff) but had they run over us i feel this would havr brrn onr og the firdt things mentioned