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“Know your enemy and know yourself and you will always be victorious” – Sun Tzu.
Way back in the fifth century BC, the author of The Art Of War espoused the vital importance of understanding your enemy and their strategies in achieving victory in war. Two-and-a-half millennia later, the Chinese general’s handbook on war is still an essential text for any student of armed conflict.
While a game of rugby league is far removed from actual warfare, there is no question that the team that knows their opponent’s strategies and how to counter them is far more likely to win.
Know your enemy.
However, a team’s knowledge must also include identifying where they are themselves deficient and working to address that inadequacy.
That Michael Ennis has been engaged as a consultant by the Canberra Raiders shows Ricky Stuart has been studying his Sun Tzu. Stuart needs his troops to learn their enemy’s successful tactics and skills.
And the Raiders have never had a bigger enemy than Ennis.
Back at the end of 2014, Stuart tried to sign Ennis to a two-year deal with the Raiders but Ennis would only come if it was three.
The Raiders then instead signed the then-little-known Englishman Josh Hodgson in a sliding doors moment that none at the club will ever regret.
However, regardless of how superb Hodgson is and has been, clearly there is still something missing at the Raiders. Their eight losses by four points or fewer in 2018 showed a clear trend in not being able to close out games. Furthermore, they gave up winning leads a number of times.
It wasn’t just because they lost a player to injury just about every game – or that they were carrying two behemoth props who became defensive liabilities after just 20 minutes and who couldn’t play more than 40 – meaning that they fell away late in games. The Raiders lacked composure. They lacked mongrel and cunning.
Ennis brings with him his superb knowledge of game management tactics. He was about as good as it got in regard to controlling the pace of the game and putting his opponents off their plans. He brings mongrel and cunning.
During his career, the boy from Coffs Harbour did what it took to win and he gave no deference or respect to anyone.
In 2016, his skill set brought the Green Machine unstuck a number of times.
After the Raiders’ home loss to the Sharks in Round 7, I wrote this of Ennis’ game:
“While watching Michael Ennis play his low rent, grubby game last Sunday against the Raiders it suddenly dawned on me.
“Michael Ennis is actually a genius.
“He knows what wins and loses a football game. Further, he realises what you can get away with and what you can’t.”
However, there is no question that what made Ennis public enemy number one with Raiders fans was his mocking of the Viking Clap following the Shark’s semi-final victory over the Raiders at GIO Stadium that same year.
Upset after the semi-final loss, Stuart gave it to Ennis with both barrels:
“To have to sit there and watch him rub our fans’ noses in it after the game was disrespectful and typical Michael Ennis… It was offensive.”
The Raiders fans agreed with their coach wholeheartedly.
And maybe Ennis was disrespectful and offensive. However, the worst thing about his actions that night was that they distracted from his superb performance.
With his side down 12-0, missing Paul Gallen and having lost Wade Graham in the first moments of the game, Ennis clawed his side back into the game with one of the most gritty – if not also cynical and low-rent – performances of his career.
He slowed the Raiders’ momentum by disrupting the ruck, relentlessly baiting their players and drawing penalties that only existed in Matt Cecchin’s mind. He swung the game and delivered a crucial victory in the Sharks journey to winning their maiden premiership.
It was far from pretty but he got the damn job done. I saw that at the time and thought Raiders fans needed to suck it up.
And now those same fans need to recognise that – as much as they might hate Mick Ennis for his past deeds – they should now embrace his belated arrival in lime green with the same open arms they will now use to do the Viking Clap together.
For all the Raiders’ promise as a side, they haven’t been able to get the job done. Stuart is betting that with Ennis’ guidance, that will change.
And if Ennis can effectively impart his special skill set to the Raiders squad then they might just mark the 30th anniversary of their famous maiden premiership with another triumph.