Almanac Rugby League – Dragons go close

I don’t miss too many Dragons games.

Whether live or on TV or even on the radio I’ll make a serious effort to catch the game each week.

I’ve even been known to submit to that unique form of pain – watching a match you’ve recorded earlier that evening even though you already know your team loses. Sometimes I’ve even caught myself thinking the deluded thought, ‘‘hey, maybe the game ends differently this time’’.

In the last 10 years I can only remember missing two games – both of them were in 2007. One was the Charity Shield match, which I missed because it was my wedding day (we’d booked the day long before the Dragons did, so I maintain they should have checked with us first).

The second was that season’s Round Five match against the Storm. What was unusual about that was that I didn’t miss it because I was out and the video didn’t record or there was a blackout or anti-league fans broke into my house and tied me up until full-time.

I chose not to watch it. I even went so far as to attend an event where the footy would not even be spoken of – the theatre. The reason was because we were on a three-match losing streak. After watching them fumble their way to a loss against the Knights, then come good too late against the  Cowboys and follow that up with a woeful effort against the Sharks I just needed a break from the misery.

That’s how part of me felt going into the 2011 match against the Storm. We’re on a four-game losing streak after some immensely embarassing efforts, and also ‘‘a team in crisis’’ according to the media who claim that Wayne Bennett’s clocked off for the season and everyone in the side hates Mark Gasnier’s guts.

The Storm, on the other hand, a riding a wave of 11 straight wins and looking very scary. So part of me figured this match could be very, very ugly for us and likely to totally ruin my weekend. But another part of me thought, ‘‘what if the unthinkable happens – we win – and I’m not watching?’’. For me, the Storm are the Darth Vader of the NRL. And not the redeemed nice guy Darth from Return of the Jedi, I’m talking about the evil Darth from Star Wars, the one who chokes people for fun. So I’d be really disappointed if we beat them and I missed it.

The Storm were missing Cooper Cronk and a few other players (I don’t care about other teams so I don’t waste valuable brain space learning their names). But so were we – Mark Gasnier was out for the second week in a row (officially injured but, if you believed segments of the media, the rest of the team voted not to play with him) and Brett Morris stayed home because his partner was about to give birth to their first kid (and fair enough too. I’d have thought less of him if he decided to play and miss the birth).

Before the game could start Storm fullback Billy Slater had to run through a banner to mark his 200th match. Obviously an AFL influence, the marking of a player’s milestones is something that’s handled rather poorly in the NRL. So is the concept of running through banners – there’s nowhere near enough running through banners in the NRL for my liking.

Once the match kicked off it was clear the Dragons had turned up to play. In their first set they made it down to the Storm’s end of the field and then their defence held the top team in the league to barely 30m. The attack was showing  potential too – at the 4th minute mark halfback Ben Hornby was tackled with the ball when a quick pass to the outside would have seen us take advantage of an overlap just on 10m from the Storm’s line. Then, a minute later, replacement winger Bronx “Son of Lord Ted” Goodwin raced down the touchline and then, when he came to fullback Slater chose to take the tackle rather than pass to the unmarked Matt Cooper screaming for it on his right. Three minutes after that Cooper crashed over the line only to be held out by some desperate defence out wide. Creating three chances in the first eight minutes was fairly impressive for a side that has looked immensely out of sorts in recent weeks.

It was going so well that something had to give. That something turned out to be Goodwin’s knee, which appeared to twist badly when his foot got stuck on the turf. It was a harsh result for a player playing just his third top grade game of the year and who has missed quite a few with injury.

It brought Kyle Stanley to the field far earlier than expected. It was Stanley who, eight minutes later, crossed over out wide. After he touched down, Slater gave him a nasty shove for no reason. Well, there was a reason – it was just Slater being Slater. He’s like the guy at the pub who’s big and tough with his mates standing behind him but, on his own, he wouldn’t say boo to a goose. With Jamie Soward’s sideline conversion we took a 6-0 lead and I started to dream about a win in Melbourne. For all of six minutes. Because that’s how long it took for Storm five-eighth Gareth Widdop to break through our line and carry it deep downfield. A tackle or two later and Cameron Smith shaped to kick before firing out a pass to winger Anthony Quinn to cross the line and bring it much too close to the posts for my liking. The conversion made it 6-all and the complexion of the game had changed. The Dragons, who had come out looking focused, began to look rattled, while the Storm started to find their rhythm.

We had some decent possession but that space we’d found so easily around the edges of the Storm line were suddenly gone. As were the last tackle options, with the Dragons kickers getting rushed by the Storm defence. I watched the clock ticking down to half-time, hoping that we’d manage to get to the sheds at 6-all – a great result give our past month of footy. We got close – just one minute from the hooter in fact. Michael Weyman conceded a soft penalty right in front and Smith booted it over for an 8-6 half-time lead.

If you’d have told me right here that the scoreline would remain unchanged for the rest of the game, I’d have said you were dreaming. The way the game changed in that second 20 minutes it seemed it would only be a matter of time before the Storm would flick the “Go” switch and rack up a big score. The way the Dragons played for parts of the second half didn’t really encourage me either. They were disjointed in attack and, a few times they went to their much-favoured left edge sweep, they didn’t look like crossing the line.

And yet somehow they managed to stop the Storm from doing that too. From somewhere they managed to dredge up some urgency, desperation and a semblance of the defensive might that was a staple early in the season. They spent quite a few tackles defending on their line and, against the number one side, I expected them to crack and let the Storm in for a few easy tries late in the game, but they didn’t.

While a win would have been awesome, a loss with dignity is the next best thing in my book. If you go down but do it fighting and never give up, I can live with that. Besides, we’re the only team this season who has held the Storm to single figures at their home ground. Perhaps we’ve finally turned that corner we’ve been looking for for weeks now. Next weekend against the Warriors is when we’ll find out if that’s true.






  1. “While a win would have been awesome, a loss with dignity is the next best thing in my book. If you go down but do it fighting and never give up, I can live with that”.

    I like your attitude Glen, a true supporter of his team. And a great read (especially the bit about the Storm being like the ‘evil Darth’. LOL.

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