Almanac Rugby League – Making the Most of a Dead Rubber

I met a couple of Canberra Raiders when I was in year one at school. It was a uniform free day and I happened to be wearing my Canberra Raiders jersey.

Two up and coming Raiders players were visiting to promote Rugby League at the grass roots level.

The players happened to be Ricky Stuart and Laurie Daley. The local paper was present to cover the visit, and obviously decked out as I was in Raiders clobber, I was front page news in the next edition beside these two future stars.

In years to come we were visited by other notable and post football, not so notable players as Noa Nadruku, Ken Nagas, Albert “The Prince” Fulavai, and a seemingly endless host of reserve graders.

I remember drinking Raiders Lime, a limited edition release from Canberra Milk, celebrating the 89 Premiership. They backed it up with 90 and 94. I remember the Raiders as being “Bad and Mean, The Green Machine, fearsome men from the A C T! Don’t try and stop these men in green, cos they’ll Hit ya! Hit ya! Hit ya! And you’ll see green!”.

All of the ingredients were there to create what should have been a lifelong and completely one eyed supporter out of myself and countless other kids my age, but for some reason, it never eventuated.

Fast forward 20 odd years and today the players run out through a giant inflatable Stormtrooper from Star Wars head. Stormtroopers, a cheerleading squad of Princess Leias, and a Darth Vader are parading around on the ground. The Bulldogs are wearing black jerseys emblazoned with lightsabres and golden numbers. Today is apparently Corporate Sellout Day. I’m not sure what to think.

Anything to liven up what is essentially a dead rubber with the Faders biggest achievement essentially being safe from the wooden spoon, and the Bulldogs needing to run in 90-odd points to blot to be a “mathematical chance” of making the eight.

Tongue in his last match, coughs it up with his first touch, on the 3rd tackle of the game, and for me, the scene is seemingly set for another long afternoon for the Raiders. The Bulldogs look like scoring on almost every tackle in their first set and the Raiders line resembles something akin to my favourite pair of durps, it has that many holes in it. Josh Morris crosses for a four-pointer in the third minute and 90 points doesn’t seem like such an insane idea.

The Bulldogs continue to look the most likely during the opening encounters, although some soft penalties and errors help to even it out, before Josh McCrone takes the line on to cross for the equaliser. Jarrod Croker with his frosted tips adds the extras and I find something to rival the growing disgust I feel for the Bulldogs ridiculous carnival jerseys.

The Dogs give up possession with a penalty in attack and the Raiders go 90 metres in a single set before yet another error halts their progress. They stay down the attacking end for another set but a stupid fifth tackle option justifies why they were challenging for the spoon and not some silverware in 2011.

The game continues to stagnate for a while before Ben Barba, from virtually nothing, adds another try to his ever expanding highlights reel and the Doggies are back in front. Barba stands in a tackle inside his own half, offloads, and it goes wide to Morris who slaps it onto his left boot. Dugan can’t handle the pick up, Barba toes ahead, regathers, makes Ferguson and Reece Robinson look foolish, then touches down in the corner. Turner misses the conversion and it’s 8-6.

On the stroke of half time Blake Ferguson soars over Ben Barba for a bomb, spills the pill, and Frosty Croker is there to pick up the crumbs. The Raiders take a surprise lead into the break.

The second half begins and Ben Roberts who has been a bit quiet finally injects a familiar error into his stats column.

The sides trade errors and then Josh McCrone steals another try from a mishandled bomb and Frosty ices another two points to put the Raiders up by 10.

McCrone then makes the next big play of the game by putting it out on the full from within his own half, and Ben Barba makes him pay chasing a grubber through for his second meat pie. Turner finds his range from right in front and it’s 18-14 Raiders.

The Bulldogs attack from their own 20 off the kick off, throwing it wide and bursting down the left hand edge, before who else but Ben Barba crosses for his third. Turner splits the uprights to take the lead.

The Bulldogs seem to have found another gear now and the Raiders are imploding with errors and I’m waiting for the game to bust wide open.

Ryan takes matters into his own hands, handles twice in one passage, and scores the potentially match winning try. His decision to mount one of the actual earthmoving bobcats parked at the end of the ground almost ends in disaster as he slips and finds himself sprawled across the bucket instead.

The Raiders mount somewhat of a comeback, and on the back of a couple of penalties Reece Robinson crosses to get the Raiders within 4. Jarrod “Jack” Frost misses and the Dogs lead by 4 with 7 mins to go.

The final minutes see Alan Tongue trying desperately to make amends, but the Dogs are equally as determined to give Ryan a fitting send off. Ben Barba shrugs off an attempted shot from Papali and Tongue, before Idris streaks away down the right touch line, flings the ball back inside, and Ben Barba, unsurprisingly now bags his 4th. Andrew Ryan misses the conversion, and I’m not sure what the line punters would have to say about it.

The Raiders have one last roll of the dice bit cough up an intercept for Josh Morris who goes 90 and puts this one to bed. Ryan find his range with his second shot and goes out on top.

Both the Bulldogs and the Raiders, actually make this an entertaining match to watch, dead rubber or not.

CANTERBURY 36 (Tries: Barba (4), Morris (2), Ryan Goals: Turner 3/5, Ryan 1/2)
CANBERRA 22 (Tries: McCrone (2), Croker, Robinson Goals: Croker 3/4)

Venue: ANZ Stadium
3-Barba (Bul), 2-Pritchard (Bul), 1-Morris (Bul)
Andrew Ryan, Alan Tongue and Michael Hodgson’s last games.

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