It's been a long week, both on and off of the footy pitch. Origin I played in Adelaide on Wednesday night to a milquetoast crowd, whilst the NSW faithful were treated to a traditionally insipid NSW performance.
After all that kool-aid about Hudson Young, he came on for thirty minutes, conceded two penalties and an error, and was hooked, never to return. Other top shelf performances came from James Tedesco, Tevita Pangai Junior and Nathan Cleary.
The end result was an embarassing fadeout, even after Thomas Flegler was sent to the sin-bin for one of the softest penalties in human history. Queensland marched down the field, twice - including Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow treating NSW's captain like a witches' hat - and punched in two quick tries to seal the deal in the last ten minutes.
So the footballing week wasn't starting great. To make matters worse, the "sports media" had decided that Ricky Stuart's resistance to letting Jarrod Croker have his 300th in C-Town instead of at Bruce Stadium was to be punished with a flogging in the square of public opinion.
Leading the charge, as I mentioned last week, was Cooper Cronk, who was more than happy to run his mouth about the decision. He was joined by James Graham, and a host of other Sydney assholes cranky that Canberra was saving the celebration for our turf, not theirs.
Needless to say, if the Raiders coughed it up against the Tigers, the only headline that would run for the next seven days is "where was Jarrod?"
Then Seb Kris picked up a knee injury, who has been one of Canberra's best this season, in a critical position in the side. It did not bode well. In addition, apparently, Xavier Savage has widdled on someone's chips, as he lost his spot in the side to Harley Smith-Shields.
And of course, the Tigers were coming off a bye, a week after they flogged the Cowboys by a now-record score. Something I was very happy with at the time, but then felt extremely nervous about as the men in green took the field on Friday night.
For the entirety of the game, it seemed the Tigers held the upper hand. Even in the early sets the two sides traded, it was clear the Wests engine room was slowly gaining the advantage.
Some early individual brilliance by Jamal Fogarty saw Canberra steal the first points. A masterpiece of a try involving a deliberate kick at the posts, and a second kick which gazumped Isaiah Papali'i. So incredible was the effort, even Tiger no. 6, Brandon Wakeham, congratulated him in the in-goal.
For the duration of the game, Canberra was very willing to give away set restarts for a variety of cheap reasons. This allowed Wests to spend plenty of time parked in Canberra's half, and in Canberra's 20. However, despite going close a number of times, the big green wall held firm. At least in the early stages.
After getting some possession of their own, Jamal Fogarty launched another 500LB'er in the 32nd minute and Jordan Rapana found himself in the right place, at the right time. There was a shadow of a doubt over Hudson Young's role in shoveling Brandon Wakeham out of the way, but it was given the green light.
And at the halfway mark, despite being clearly dominated, Canberra had twelve points in their top pocket.
Things picked up where they left off, with another individual piece of Jamal Fogarty magic putting the Raiders eighteen points up. Yes, Tigers fans, Luke Brooks was shoved out of the way by a Canberra player, no, no-one noticed it, yes, you were robbed.
For the next twenty minutes, Canberra grimly held on. The Tigers were starting to make serious inroads, and Luke Brooks was particularly menacing. But every linebreak or potential try was met with hurried scramble. In particular, Corey Horsburgh worked his guts out.
And then, everything changed when Tom Starling was sin-binned after the eighth set restart.
A completely cooked defence, playing one man down, after having been wailed on for thirty minutes. The Raiders collapsed and surrendered an eighteen point lead in... four minutes. Try, penalty on the ensuing set, try, penalty on the ensuing set, try.
Then the Tigs marched up the field again, and Luke Brooks slammed it home from 35 out on the sideline. 19-18 Tigers. C-Town roared as one, and it looked like a fade for the ages.
Then, things got goofy.
Canberra managed to steady the ship thanks to a short kick-off which allowed them possession in the Tigers' half. And then, just as Jamal Fogarty missed the equalizer field-goal, the officials noticed Isaiah Papali'i had taken Jamal Fogarty's leg out from under him...
Bulldogs v Rabbitohs 2015? Is that you?
Anyway, Jamal Fogarty calmly slotted the penalty goal. The tables had turned again, and the Tigers had one last chance to equalize. Sadly, after a gallant fightback, they promptly shit the bed, and the ball died in the hands of a prop. On Canberra's 20.
And so a legendary fade turned into the skinniest win of the year - including the golden point win against the Dolphins.
I feel for Tigers fans, because that was dreadful. Yes, I wanted my team win - but not like that. Particularly considering the Cowboys had robbed them the previous season with a similarly dubious call.
In the presser afterward, Ricky lost his mind, beating his chest about the set restart count. In a particularly firey exchange with a journalist, the point was correctly made that no, Jarrod Croker wouldn't have magically halted the Tiger comeback all by himself. Ricky didn't name names, but I'm positive he watched the coverage Cooper Cronk was given by the media clenching his fists and hoping old mate mercenario would shut up.
Despite the dramatic circumstances, Canberra still walked away with the two points. It was arguably Jamal Fogarty's best game - two tries and 4/4 with the boot, alongside excellent leadership and in-play kicking. Having been given the keys to the kingdom by Jack, he has made the most of it.
With previous halves like Sam Williams and Aidan Sezer, they were always good, but never great. There was never a game I could point to and say "that one, that one right there." R14 was Jamal Fogarty's game. Lucky number seven, indeed.
I mentioned it in passing, but Corey Horsburgh had a brilliant defensive performance. Playing the full eighty, he made a team-high 44 tackles and dealt with the Tigers' dangerous outside backs handily all night.
And despite the overall pack being beaten, Josh Papalii has apparently found his form for this season. Busting tackles and being a menace all night, the Tigers middle third found it difficult to contain him.
I would also like to know what's happened to Xavier Savage. Yes, Seb Kris has been a revelation in the position, But the X-man was good in that spot last year. Just like Zac Woolford, I would be very interested to know what's going on behind the scenes. No doubt, it will remain a closely guarded secret.
Otherwise, it seems the Raiders have returned to the run and gun style that saw them take a top four spot in 2016. It remains to be seen if they'll maintain the momentum and form to achieve the same result, however. Defence is clearly a problem, and I imagine it will remain a problem. The specter of heavy losses to Penrith and Manly hang over Canberra still, with the worst differential of any top eight side. Ouch.
This week, it's the big one. Jarrod's 300th. The warriors come to town, and will hopefully leave empty handed. I'm hoping every green-eyed monster packs the stadium, to see Canberra finally leave their defensive woes behind, and dump fifty on New Zealand.
But I'm also hoping for a million dollars and an end to war, so, it would be nice just to get the win.
Catch you next time,
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