Rugby league wingers have come a long way in the last thirty years. Gone are the days of diminutive speedsters who did little more than take the odd pressure-relieving run.
If I supported the Canberra Raiders, I’d want the ballistic Ricky Stuart and his busted plastic chairs over his apologetic alter ego every day of the week.
Leading into the foot-of-the-table Bulldogs clash, most wondered how Ricky’s 0-4 ‘soft’ squad would respond to the on and off-field pasting dished out at Brookvale five days earlier.
In fact, looking back, plenty wondered if the game would recover after a tumultuous week that started with the referees in the centre of a tug of war between the coaches and Todd Greenberg. Then, just as we braced for impact, we learnt the difference between a roadworthy and rogue bumper bar is harder to split than Josh and Brett Morris.
Stop the rot! Thursday evening couldn’t come fast enough.
But if anything could silence rugby league’s persistent demons, it would be a resurgent Raiders on the competition’s fastest track.
Just like swanky swimmers spruik fast and slow pools, GIO Stadium has always been a haven for busy scoreboard attendants. No other ground has hosted a match featuring more than 100 points, and four of the top 16 highest team scores in premiership history all occurred on the turf better known as Bruce.
Maybe it’s the fresh country air and the illusion of wide open spaces. No-one knows better than the national capital’s biggest import, Mal Meninga, and local boy Terry Campese – both crushed individual point-scoring records with 38 and 36 respectively, the most in a match since the famous Dave Brown ran amok for Easts over 80 years ago.
Static, white noise – call it what you want, but the incessant grind of league’s petty circular arguments deflates my enthusiasm like a glistening blade through a freshly pumped Steeden.
By the time Thursday rolled around the clouds couldn’t have been any darker – refs this, Todd that. I’d had enough, and if Sam Burgess was to direct an elbow, I could think of several yappier targets more worthy than an unlucky Josh Morris.
Dogs fans will call me nuts, but Aaron Woods’ ninth-minute fumble shifted the gloom like a southerly buster. Nick Cotric scooped up the dregs and kickstarted the Raiders’ season with a Gidley-flick that sent Jordan Rapana clear of the in-goal and along the eastern touchline.
What followed was high-octane footy theatre. Fans jumped from their seats as the Morris boys powered through the gears in a race to savour. Josh eventually dropped off, and when Brett’s chase ended with a face full of studs, the Kiwi flyer had all but added another clip to a burgeoning YouTube collection.
But just as Campo operated in fast-forward mode on the same turf, Jeremy Marshall-King miraculously appeared to crush the raid. Thankfully Joey Leilua grabbed the batten and finished the race, but it mattered not, for tongues once again wagged in optimistic unison.
Canberra still fumbled and bumbled as Ricky spluttered. But with every Raider that vanished up the tunnel, the Lime Greens grew another leg and eventually sailed home on a couple of pinpoint Aiden Sezer kicks to record what they should have in the opening round of the season.
And then Ricky apologised to his team!
Say what, if the Gold Coast builds another roller coaster, they should name it the Viking Clap. My mind immediately roared down the next dipper to next week with visions of a content Raiders failing to back-up against a hungrier Parramatta.
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You wouldn’t be a coach for quids but Stuart owes his squad nothing. He’s still owed at least three more favours for results already squandered, and as a fan I want Canberra at their most watchable.
Granted it’s only early days, but for me the Dragons along with my Sea Eagles are the only sides I’ll drop everything to watch. Last year I’d come up with any excuse to join Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu on their quest for a combined 50 tries, and the year before it was Penrith and Canberra.
Blake Austin and Josh Papalii should be better for a kick up the backside, and despite some inexcusable losses, the evenness of the competition means the Raiders aren’t too far off the pace.
The old saying, ‘When Souths are doing well, rugby league is doing well’ will always stand, but when Canberra plays flare-ball, sanity will always be maintained.