NRL Round 1 – Canberra vs Penrith: The Colours are lowered

Today saw one of the most significant games of the season, a game that undoubtedly would cause all of Sydney, nay all of Australia will be fixated upon. Every nuance dissected, every minuscule detail debated and discussed. I am of course talking about the first game of the season for the Canberra Raiders.

In a strange turn of events, I’m watching this match at the local Penrith Panthers Leagues Club, and in a defiant move I’m wearing the colors in the den of the enemy. Ever since the loss to Souths in the playoffs last year (Where I still maintain that a number of refereeing decisions were questionable at best), I’ve been busting for a chance to see the mighty, mighty Green Machine in action.

The Raiders duly oblige with an awful start. Errors and penalties divide up periods of ineffective attack. It’s lucky Penrith aren’t executing their plays properly, because if they were this one would be over after 15 minutes. Of course, this is all forgotten when McCrone drifts a pass out to Sandor Earl. Earl, who is sporting a ridiculous peroxide blond haircut, tears down the left and has McCrone unmarked on his inside, and all he has to do is find him with a pass and the dismal start will be forgotten.

But no, Earl goes for an unlikely put down in the corner and drops it. A few minutes later Sika Manu tramples over Sam Williams and scores. The day is brutally hot, and the Raiders are suffering. Young reserve hooker Matt McIlwrick is making some inroads, and he combines with McCrone to level the scores at six each. As the half draws to a close, the Panthers attack the Canberra line. They’ve had the better of the field position and possession, but if the Raiders can hold on here they’ll have momentum going into the break, and for a moment it looks like they will. Until James Segeyaro, the madman with an MC Hammer haircut, throws an outrageous dummy and dives over the line from dummy half, ducking under the hulking figure of Tom Learoyd-Lahrs.

The mood at halftime, for me at least, is grim. Not for the Panther fans across the bar. They whoop and holler and call players by their nicknames “Come on Cootey!” “Get him Brownie!” They haven’t seen the colors yet, but if they do I’ll never hear the end of it.  The camera shows the interior of the Raiders dressing sheds, and for reasons that elude me they are wearing beanies. Beanies, on a day so hot that I’m surprised that the grass at Panther Park hasn’t withered and died. Only the Raiders would do such a thing.

That Segeyaro try has taken all the wind out of Canberra’s sails. They are flat and lifeless in the second half. Walsh rolls in a kick and a man in green fumbles it, Coote toes it through and scores. The teams trade blows for a while, until a penalty finally gives the Raiders some field position. McCrone fires out a wobbly pass along the ground, around Blake Fergusons ankles. An ordinary player would have dropped it. There is nothing ordinary about Blake Ferguson, the king of the lairs, and he juggles it as only he can before putting it down. Croker misses the kick, but the game is alive.

The kick chase from the Raiders is fatiguing under the hot Western Sydney sun. Josh Mansour is returning kicks with bullocking charges and deftly offloading like Arthur Beetson, and the Panthers surge down the field with ease. It’s a miracle all they can gather from the pressure is a penalty goal. Penrith lead by 10, with time running short.

The Raiders are hammering the Panther line. The passes are sticking, the bodies are in motion. McCrone goes left again and finds Ferguson. He darts left and right, and creates a two on one. Then he dummies with an unmarked Earl on his outside, as only he can. Earl rashly dives for the corner on the last, loses the ball and the Raiders are done for the day.

Penrith score twice more, once from a Coote crosskick that bounces up on it’s point. Josh Dugan jogs across and lazily tries to pluck it out of the air. But Mansour chases hard and he wants it more, and to the surprise of nobody except Dugan he gathers it in and gives it to Nathan Smith. The Panthers have out-willed the Raiders, and that’s enough for me. I leave the Leagues Club defeated, the colors have been lowered. The Panther fans spot me just as Nigel Plum crashes over for a try that rubs salt into open wounds, and they laugh at my retreat.

Nathan Hindmarsh Medal

3 – Josh Mansour

2 – James Segeyaro

1 – Lachlan Coote

Do me a massive favor and visit my blog http://sportssermon.wordpress.com. Or follow me on Twitter @campo37. Both contain many more details of how the Raiders will one day drive me to an early grave.

 

 

About Nick Campton

A young sportswriter trying to get his foot in the door. Do me a solid and check out my collection of ramblings http://sportssermon.wordpress.com

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