A new game of the year contender graced the screens in Round 8 as crowds returned to New South Wales venues and two coaches moved one step further down a greasy pole. Here are my talking points for the weekend.
Ricky Stuart may have kicked chairs, condemned referees and worse, defiled the Queen’s English. But after thrusting Canberra into premiership conversation, this time he’s gone too far.
Stuart’s resurrection of the Raiders does nothing but place undue pressure on the club’s supporters, those poor people stuck between the rock and a hard place of dreaming big and remembering who they support.
With the compounding interest of week-on-week optimism and a coveted position inside the top four, Canberra fans know they have now progressed too far in 2019 to avoid anything but a turbulent and binary conclusion.
This is why they have begun to feel anxious quantities of expectation – because the end will be either euphoric or haunting, one of champagne in the town square or Cruisers on the roof.
Twitter was aflutter on Friday after the Raiders beat the Warriors in the latest battle for the Schizoid Shield, with the assured road win parking the Canberra faithful in another state of belief that was neither ironic or diagnosable.
The commanding 46-12 triumph was another unfairly promising display ably lead by a cast of many including Josh Hodgson, the man who came to Australia to build a reputation as an NRL footballer and did so immediately by terrorising a university dormitory.
Thankfully since he’s concentrated on footy, and it’s fair to say he’s been reasonably handy.
So much so, with news emerging this week Cameron Smith was once a whisker from signing for the Raiders, the club’s fans rejoiced the Queenslander was shunned because it probably would’ve cost them history’s greatest hooker.
Along with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Josh Papalli, John Bateman and try-scoring machine Sia Soliola, Hodgson can be blamed for the Raiders finding themselves in this premiership window of apprehensive terror.
Sure, it’s only Round 20 and it was only the Warriors, but the nature of the Raiders’ performances is dissimilar to usual. This is mainly because games aren’t endured like the astronauts re-entering the earth’s atmosphere in Apollo 13.
Even Stuart is beginning to be caught up, with the coach admitting his men have been “galvanised” after two years of disappointment, effectively confirming his side has developed immunity against itself.
But with all due respect, and acknowledging this team is made of sterner stuff, it’s Canberra.
This is what terrifies the fans – the club’s modern-day fabric is woven with a phobia of success, a dogged spectre that cruelled the Alan Tongue generation and was arguably the catalyst for holding back pack-a-day smoker Jason Smith.
After living through a 1990s saturated with glory to a life celebrating unrealistic prelims and any year of highlights that don’t include CCTV, the modern Raiders fan is one classically conditioned to give up in September and/or lobby the NRL for a top-nine finals series.
Canberra people know their team’s place in rugby league – they lose no sleep over the Origin period, they can make plans for Friday nights and, best of all, they can save money on erecting an antenna for free-to-air broadcasts.
Their existence has become one solely of volatile and ephemeral swings, with their team best summed up when they managed to botch a field goal attempt by inadvertently scoring a try.
And, frankly, those faithful lime green folks deserve better.
Can the Raiders really go all the way? The Roosters and Souths are misfiring, the Storm are peaking early and Manly are surely taking the piss. There’s Nic Cotric to return, and even BJ Leilua, but I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.
On the whole, everything is coming together nicely, and that’s why fans are suss.
But if it doesn’t happen, can we at least all pray that their season is resolved in a manner dignified to their plight? I’m talking nothing mirroring their imperceptible two-point losses, a Michael Ennis viking clap or the last 25 years.
Canberra fans don’t need another Edrick Lee moment. They’re sick of hearing your ‘possession’ gags about Jason Bulgarelli. And most of all, they already know the electronic medium used to share their last premiership was Telecom Mobilenet.
So, footy, be nice.