Almanac Rugby League – The worst game ever played

I sit in front of my computer embarrassed to be writing my first review for the Almanac on possibly the worst game of the year.  14th versus 16th on the NRL ladder does not necessarily make this a bad game, and you would think that both proud clubs would be trying desperately to avoid the wooden spoon.

In the Titans’ short history, they have not received a spoon, and have not finished below 13th while the Raiders’ only spoon came in their inaugural year in 1982.  Well, if you thought this would have been motivation enough, you might have been disappointed with the performance of both sides given the historical significance on the line.

Before I dissect what I was unfortunate enough to witness on Saturday evening, I will reminisce briefly on where these clubs stood only one year ago.  I had just returned home after a three-month stint in Japan following my beloved Tokyo Swallows in the Japanese Professional Baseball League to a country caught up in election fever.  As a Raiders fan, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were coming into some great form heading towards the finals.  Hopes were up, and with the likes of Terry Campese and Josh Dugan in devastating form, it was once again reasonable to dream again of a day where finals success was within reach.

The Titans were also in great form.  They had consolidated their position in the top four on the ladder and were definite contenders heading into September action.  In this round last year, the Titans had a 23-14 win over the Roosters and the Raiders a 32-16 win over the Dragons.  Now one year on, all I can take solace in is that my Tokyo Swallows are three games clear on top of the Central League ahead of the more likely Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers.  Unfortunately for Titans and Raiders fans, there is not much to say about the disappointing form reversals.

To be fair, both sides have had their fair share of injuries to key playmakers which has necessitated changes.  To make matters worse, the Titans barely had 17 men fit for this game, Greg Bird played with a broken hand and Clinton Toopi sat on the bench suffering the effects of vertigo…  The Raiders problem with injury have also been exacerbated with Josh Dugan once again failing to back-up and was replaced by the Raiders long-time stalwart and third-choice fullback David Milne.

Looking back at my notes, the first half was dominated by errors and penalties, and despite plenty of time in each other’s quarter, it appeared that there was nobody capable of taking control to mount any credible attacks on the try line.  The most likely opportunities arose from forwards hitting it up one off the ruck. Unimaginative – yes, but with a less than impressive Raiders defence, Tony Laffranchi almost proved this to be a successful ploy, but alas dropped the ball over the line to add to an ever growing error list.

The first points did come after 20 minutes to the Raiders after a bomb defusal attempt by Titan fullback Jordan Rankin was dropped and in the following set the Raiders moved the ball to the right for Joel Thompson to find some space and cross over the line for the first try.  Croker converted the try and the Raiders are unexpectedly up 6-0.

I foolishly think that maybe now after this try the standard of the game will improve. However, not a few minutes later this impression has been displaced when Josh Papalii drops a simple ball and in the following set the young Cook Island International, Dominique Peyroux, powers over to score his first try in the NRL.

The error count continues to grow and eventually the Titans go over again in the final stages of the first half after a dropped bomb by Blake Ferguson is regained by Will Matthews, who scores for the Titans.  Titans up 12-6 at the half. The most telling/disappointing stat of the first half is 16 errors….

The second half gets no better, it only takes a few minutes for a short ball from Sam Williams to be dropped by Joe Picker and returned 80-odd metres by David Mead for a great individual try.  Titans up 18-6. A few minutes later, and a howler at dummy-half by Alan Tongue leads to a bomb by William Zillman on the next set which is marked by Steve Michaels over the head of a disappointing Blake Ferguson in the Raiders in-goal to score a try.  After the conversion Titans are up 24-6.

15 minutes to go and all seems lost. I am beginning to despair, not for this game, but for what might eventuate next week when the Raiders host the Panthers.  I worry that in a game that celebrates the 30 year anniversary of the Green Machines debut in the national competition, as well as a farewell to one of Canberra’s favourite sons, Alan Tongue, will be less than complementary to a club with a proud history.

As my mind ticks over and pint glass empties from nowhere a glimpse of hope appears.  From a flat disorganised rabble comes an unlikely line break by Sammy Williams down the right touchline, he passes it through Croker for David Milne to put the ball down over the line for an unexpected try. 24-12 after the conversion.

Further intensity from the Raiders, and Titan errors, sees the Raiders again in an attacking position and Shillington falls over the line in what seems to be a double movement.  But the video ref does not agree and a try is awarded. 24-18.

Could this be a comeback reminiscent of the round three clash between these sides when the Titans pulled off one of the most unlikely comebacks of at least the last few seasons? No..  Another drop ball by Papalii followed by a penalty against David Shillington for stripping the ball ends the game with a penalty conversion to Preston Campbell. Titans 26-18.  Game over.

I could not be happier that this game is finished. Do not think for a minute that anybody deserved to win this game. The records will show that the Titans won in a relatively uneventful game, but don’t be mistaken, this was the worst game of the year. There were a total of 30 errors and 70 missed tackles. The only players who could really put their hand up for having a less than awful game are Greg Bird who was easily the most effective player on the ground, and the irrepressible Sean Fensom, with another 60 tackles.

Will there be any ramifications from this game? Probably not. The respective coaches will say they are proud of the effort given injury tolls and move on as quietly as possible to avoid any in-depth scrutiny of the team’s woeful seasons. As someone with the Raiders best interests at heart, I would advise the board to engage Don Argus to perform a review of the Raiders board, management, coaching, and players such as he did for Cricket Australia. It would be messy, but time for a shake up is now!

GOLD COAST TITANS 26 (Tries: Peyroux, Matthews, Mead, Michaels. Goals: Campbell 5/5)
CANBERRA RAIDERS 18 (Tries: Thompson, Milne, Shillington. Goals: Croker 3/3)

Venue: Skilled Park
: 10,230
: 3-Bird (Titans) 2-Fenson (Raiders) 1-Srama (Titans)
: Worst game of all time


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