And so it comes down to this: the plucky, brave, people’s champion – Canberra Raiders – versus the dark and malignant Forces of Evil, Melbourne Storm.
Storm are the Baddies. The Stormtroopers.
Darth Vader? Cameron Smith? Same diff.
My, but I hate these people. I mean, I love these people. But I hate these people. It’s that time of year. And the Raiders are the hot story of it.
Yes, there’s a few others. The Sharks take on the premiers at Allianz Stadium and there’s a few storylines heading into and out of that fixture. Johnathan Thurston, Paul Gallen, Harold Holt.
Plenty will be written and otherwise gibbered about these people.
But from this scribbler’s perspective – an ex-pat Canberran on a couch on the northern beaches watching Daryl Brohman and Beau Ryan on The Footy Show singing ‘Up, Up, Cronulla’ as a hamburger is wheeled out on stage by a remote-control wheelie machine, what fresh Hell is this – the Raiders’ march towards the Provan-Summons Trophy, with the first of two hurdles being the evil Storm, well … Spring has sprung, baby.
And the Raiders are out of the box. And will smash the evil purple plague of death Saturday night.(Click to Tweet)
Oh? The journo’s a Raiders fan? Did you guess? Ha. Stuff it. Heaps of readers think journos write about their favourite team in a favoured light anyway, so let’s let it all hang out.
I mean, it’s not actually true because if anything journos get stuck into ‘their’ team more than others. it’s a thing. Public interest. Write what the fans want to know. And … what?
Where are we?
Oh yes, hating on Melbourne Storm, the terrible, evil things. My but I hate these people. And chances are you hate these people. Because who doesn’t hate Melbourne Storm?
So good. So purple. So clinical and strong and tough and all that winning they do down there with their clinical toughness and strength.
They go grouse Melbourne Storm. They’re up there with any of the best ever. And for that you’ve got to hate them, just as you’e always had to hate Manly.
So blinking bloody good.
My mate Mark doesn’t hate Melbourne Storm. He lives down there, is a season-ticket holder. Loves ‘em. And why not? What a footy club. Something in the Yarra River water, for sure.
And the people of Melbourne are largely damned fools for not supporting them in the numbers they do Carlton or St. Kilda or whoever.
Granted it’s cultural, and Australian rules dominates the group think south of the Murray. And that’s just it.
But hell – you can like both, can’t you? You can like Hawthorn and Storm and even the Rebels, whatever they are. Why can’t you appreciate the skills and winning and personalities of these people, the National Rugby League’s testing material?
Because that’s what Storm have been for a decade. Their teams have been so good you can’t believe they could fit them under the salary cap.
Oh? Did we mention the war? Seems we did. Sorry, Storm. But it’s part of your story.
I once asked James Graham about biting Billy Slater on the ear and he said he’d “moved on”. But you can’t just “move on”. The bad stuff is as much your story as the glory. And that’s just it.
And anyway, Storm’s story has been mostly glory. They’ve been magnificent, Storm.
Consider Smith, their brilliant captain. He could be the best No.9 that’s ever played. Granted you can’t compare him to Max Krilich or Benny Elias or anyone who “hooked” in “scrums” any more than you can compare telephones from 1975 to today.
But Smith would be a champion in any era, as Wally Lewis would be, as Reg Gasnier would be.
And as Cooper Cronk would be.
Wrote a yarn this week about rugby league’s best halfbacks and had to leave out Cronk (and Ricky Stuart) and it was very, very hard.
Cronk’s about to play 300 first grade games. And there’ll be little difference in quality of his work from debut versus Cronulla in Round 9 of 2004 (Brett Kimmorley captained the Sharks, Stephen Kearney the Storm) to a preliminary final against Canberra 12 years later. What a player.
And what a club. They’re minor premiers and competition favourites without perhaps the best fullback there’s ever been, Billy Slater.
And, well, I hate them. And you hate them.
And here we are.
Loving the Raiders! Because who doesn’t love the Raiders? These plucky Bad News Bears, trophy-less for twenty-two years, playing a fleet-footed and funky brand of hot potato, hot chilli footy that hasn’t been seen since the Cowboys of ’05.
How about ‘em? What’s not to like? There’s nothing not to like. They are the best thing to happen to rugby league since six tackles.
Maybe not that good. But they’re good, the Raiders. And they’re really good – and really good fun – to watch. And whoever that NRL suit was that didn’t want Canberra in the comp, he can take a flying nude leap at the moon.
Can Canberra beat Melbourne Storm? Of course they can. Please. It’s 80 minutes of footy played on the same rectangular chunk of green grass. They’ll run out weighing the same, and if anything the Raiders – mostly due to Shannon Boyd – will weigh even more.
And weight is a factor. It’s a Thing. If you weigh 120 kilograms and can run the hundred in a time centres would find respectable, you’re a damaging human being.
Boyd will play for Australia this year. And so will BJ Leilua and Blake Austin and Jarrod Croker if Big Mal has a brain, and he does.
And if the Raiders hang onto the pill, and complete sets, they win. They do! They win.
If the Raiders get their share of the footy, and hang onto the ball and don’t give away penalties – and still play the same exciting, attacking, have-a-crack style of rugby league as the ’05 Cows – they will win.
Yes, Storm are a machine. They’re relentless, clinical and strong. So strong. And they play Belly-ache Ball: the relentless subjugation of one’s enemies through physical domination, referee and rules manipulation, and repeat sets.
They smash you, Storm.
But the Raiders smashed them 22-8 in Canberra in Round 23. Two weeks later the Broncos smashed Storm 26-15 in Melbourne.
They’re great, Melbourne, and worthy minor premiers.
But they’re hardly the Dragons of ‘59.
And if you can get $3 or more in this two-horse race, well, gamble responsibly. And then get everything you have and plunge it on on Canberra. Pro punters are always looking for “overs”.
Well, 2-1 in a two-horse race, for Raiders over Storm, that is overs.
Go well, people’s champion.