So it turns out last week was a false dawn.
Despite the Storm being very much the baby Storm, they were very much a match and more for the baby Raiders. I did have hope for an upset, but it was not to be, and that's ok.
It also turns out Nicho Hynes is quite the find for Melbourne - although I wonder how much of that is down to Melbourne's systems.
I tried to do some proper research prior to writing this article, but couldn't tell you why. In line with sports journalism requirements, that meant listening to the press conference, reading one article and listening to the wrap-up on ABC grandstand. I.e, as little as possible - truly deep analysis.
If I thought that game was difficult to watch as a fan, I can only imagine how Ricky Stuart and the players felt afterward in the sheds. Particularly Sam Williams, who has been a loyal servant of the club. Or Brad Schneider, who was permitted to play for a whole eleven minutes, when the game was already over. In the two minutes of press conference, I think Stuart said all of ten words. Currently the coach and the playing group are at rock bottom and mentally defeated.
So the wrong thing to do as a loyal green-eyed pundit is to kick them in the ribs. Especially considering the media and impartial pundits will take them to task.
That being said, I don't consider it particularly inflammatory to suggest that the Raiders will not be playing finals football. A late charge at season's end would likely result in a 9th or 10th place finish and secure momentum for next season. But the idea of being there or thereabouts in September is a bridge too far. Even in the case of a small miracle and the Raiders finding a purple patch, the end result is likely to be between seventh and eighth, finishing up with an embarassing pummelling.
For the remainder of this season it is better that the Raiders look to the future of the club. Chance their arm, blood rookies, and convince those on the periphery who are part of long term strategic plans to stay. Improve front-office processes and ensure those who depart the club (at this stage likely to be George Williams) do not do so with a bad taste in their mouth, for hope of attracing similiarly talented players in the future.
It may also be time to consider where Ricky Stuart fits into the puzzle. Don't misunderstand me, now, I am not advocating for Stuart's sacking. Regardless of how the last two and a half years play out, he will be one of Canberra's favoured sons forever. I will always appreciate the gifts he brought the club in his tenure, both past and future. Win, lose, or draw the Raiders should allow Stuart to see out his contract until the end of 2023, barring a catastrophic 2022 campaign, and maybe even then. No-one wants to see Stuart turfed, it'd be a public relations disaster.
But if the Raiders go backward again in 2022 and 2023, his seat will only get warmer.
It may also just be a bad year for the club - though there's no way to determine how true that is, other than just riding out the mediocrity.
It is also important to mention that despite finals football being off the table (in all probability, it's far from a guarantee), there's still a long way to go in the season. There's plenty of opportunity to improve and show the fans glimpses of what they've come to expect in the last two years. Bad chemicals of loss can easily be replaced with the good chemicals of a hard fought win, like last week against the Bulldogs. Much like GWS, if the Raiders can string together a series of good performances, we may see the Green Machine start with a roar at the tail end, rather than a splutter.
For the fans, the good chemicals could always be just around the corner. That's the miracle of football.
That isn't to say the game wasn't all bad either. There was something close to a miracle try scored in the first minute and a half. There was plenty of skill in the Raiders' second score as well. For thirty minutes, Melbourne looked like they were on struggle street. The Williams pairing looked solid, too - at least until the wheels inevitably came off.
It's not like the Raiders are giving their fans nothing to cheer for. Even if, by the end of the game, it's a Bronx cheer.
The Parting Shot
For a change, it's remarkably easy to write this part of the column. With teams like the Eels and Penrith, they used their well-developed and talented sides to play fast, attractive football. Their defence comes from knowledge of the game and trust in the man next to you.
As for the Melbourne Storm? Well, the answer is simple. Wrestle. Can't get momentum if you spend five seconds getting to your feet.
It's no secret that the Storm have perfected the art of slowing the play the ball. Grappling and wrestling and having the tackled player fight so that the play the ball takes forever. Whilst this is not new, I had hoped that with a new generation of players, perhaps Craig Bellamy could have mercy for the fans and opposition team and not turn every defensive action into a farce.
Fat chance. New look, same Storm.
Again, this isn't the fault of the match officials, don't blame the referees, because the rubbish is legal. There's been very limited action on trying to rein it in from the NRL. I don't know why and my tin-foil hat tells me it's because the NRL is trying to compete with the giants of AFL in the city. Well, despite being one of the most successful teams in the modern era, no-one in Melbourne gives a shit about the Storm.
So, congratulations, you played yourself. Enjoy mediocrity when Bellyache leaves.
So that's my mandatory column for the week on the Raiders. No matter what, I'll be watching and silently hoping for a miracle. I'll stick my middle finger up toward opposition fans and rip in when we win.
That's just what it means to be a fan of the Raiders. With troops back and a dramatic adjustment the Raiders might edge past the Roosters, but we'd need a big boost in a week.
Catch you next time,
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