Almanac Rugby League – A sad farewell for a unique champion

At the risk of plagiarism, I have to confess that this week’s game between the Panthers and the Raiders was one of the worst games I’ve ever seen. Chris Parkinson seems to have had a similar viewing experience for the Raiders game last week.

Despite the scrappiness of the game, however, and the tangible frustration of the Raiders fans, Canberra Stadium exuded a highly emotive energy on Saturday night. It was the last of the Raiders’ home games for 2011 and also the last ever home game for Alan Tongue, the revered captain of the Raiders, who has loyally served the team since he graduated from being the Canberra Stadium lawn mower in 2000.

For these reasons, the crowd and the Raiders themselves were not so much desperately trying to avoid the wooden spoon so much as keenly trying to avoid another devastating loss recorded as the swansong for Tongue and the 2011 Raiders home season.

Alan Tongue is somewhat of an anomaly. He has played in the NRL, for the same team, over eleven years and largely avoided the swell of scandal, violence and mayhem that tends to plague long-serving NRL players. Tongue is unique in his clear preference for spending time with his family and hanging out on his Dad’s Tamworth sheep property rather than get sloshed at Mooseheads and engaging in documented buggery, like his former teammates.

It is this ‘quiet, home-grown, family man’ perception of Tongue and his jocular yet ambitious personality that has made him such a hero to the Raiders supporters, particularly when the statistics (101 career wins, 1014 losses) might indicate a different story.

Recently I had the pleasure of working with a colleague on exchange from Papua New Guinea (PNG). This guy, Whitney, was very enthusiastic about living and working in Australia for a couple of months. He was, however, a quiet and mild-mannered fellow so it was surprising to see him excited to the point of physical discomfort one lunch time as we sat waiting for our food in a local Canberra café.

It turned out that what had Whitney so excited was the sight of one large, rough and ready looking ginga sitting at the neighbouring café. Of course, the brawny red-headed athlete next door was none other than Alan Tongue. Whitney, being the shy guy that he is, lacked the courage to say ‘hello’ to his rugby league idol but once a friend facilitated some introductions and explained Whitney’s appreciation for the game, Tongue was more than willing to pose for a photo and provide autographs.

This event speaks not only for the generosity of Alan Tongue, a long serving and loyal Raiders captain, but also for the wide-ranging influence and enthusiasm of Rugby League itself. The Lonely Planet guidebook might tell you that PNG is predominantly Christian (with a small percentage of animists – possibly a place for Joel Monaghan there) but my friend, Whitney, would tell you there’s a much more serious social faith in PNG: the game of rugby league.

It’s this faith, a blinding belief in the incomparable ability of rugby league to evidence the athletic greatness of individuals, on a field where strategy and not just brute force will win you the game, which motivates Raiders fans to come out on an evening that promises to be no warmer than seven degrees and almost guarantees (based on their performance to date) the Raiders will lose dismally.

Unfortunately for fans, particularly those stalwarts and former players who turned out for the 30th year anniversary of the Raiders on Saturday night, their faith in the game did not deliver a miracle.

The Raiders lost, 19-18. That one-point margin deceitfully indicates a close and entertaining game. In reality it was more like a playground squabble with periodic moments of grace from Panthers’ Luke Walsh and Brad Tighe, an occasionally productive fake pass from Raider Josh McCrone and some demonstration of skill by Raider Jarrod Croker.

I stand by Chris Parkinson’s recommendation from last week – it’s time for a review of the Raiders club coaching and management. These things have a trickle-down effect and while there is evidence of some young skill in the club, it is impossible for them to turn cheap unreliable tricks into consistent game strategy without corporate knowledge and strategic coaching and management.

PENRITH 19  (Tries: David Simmons, Brad Tighe, Luke Walsh Goals: Luke Walsh 3/3 Field Goal: Luke Walsh)
18  (Tries: Josh McCrone, Michael Picker, Alan Tongue Goals: Josh Croker 3/3)

Leave a Comment