It's been a week in the rugby league world. Which is good, because if it had been two weeks, I'd worry we the rugby league public were in a simulation. specifically, a Rugby League live simulation, a fate worse than death.
Ryan Papenhuyzen finally returned after Jack Wighton shattered his knee like it was made of glass - sadly, not in time to front up against the Storm. It's a feel good story for the lad, who seems to have been on and off injury lists for the entirety of career. Maybe that is the karma he accidentally accumulated for taking Scott Drinkwater's job, premiership, and maybe Clive Churchill medal.
More locally, the Raiders have decided to undergo a rebrand in favour of simplifying their local. Mission accomplished, even if the logo is a definite step back.
At least in my opinion. Art is subjective, after all.
This week, the Wests Tigers descended on Canberra - both NRL Women's and NRL sides would do battle today, with very similar stakes.
After a shaky start to the season with a reasonable loss to Cronulla, the Women's side had bounced back nicely with an emphatic win over the hotshot Roosters. However, there were still question-marks over the spine's ability to play with speed and accuracy.
Much like the Roosters last week, the Raiders faced a star-studded, built out roster in the Wests Tigers. Which is an odd thing to say about any sports team coming out of Campbelltown, but there we are.
However, the Tigers would be treated to the Green Machine roaring to life, as Zahara Temara kicked a beautiful grubber kick to halves partner Ash Quinlan. Canberra didn't wait long to capitalise on the shock, with Hollie-Mae Dodd walking over on the left hand edge after some slick hands from the Temara sisters.
Wests were keen to prove their mettle, however, and it didn't take long for the Tigers to hit back through Leianne Tufuga. Unlike the Roosters, it seemed Pauline Piliae-Rasabale had a laser boot, and the warrior women from the west would be going up by 6s.
Both sides settled into the trenches, but Canberra's forwards were proving difficult to contain. Simaima Taufa, Kere Matua and Sophie Holyman were giving the Wests defensive line plenty of trouble, and would for the duration of the game.
However, a brace of penalties against Canberra would eventually steady the ship, and the Tigers did not miss with the glut of possession, levelling the scores courtesy of their superstar second-rower, Kezie Apps.
In a portent of things to come in the Men's game, the lady Raiders had no trouble marching up the field, often hammering out 60 or more meters in a set, but couldn't find the finesse to crack the Tigers. Even with the power of "Amazing" Grace Kemp in the engine room.
The scores would remain level at half-time. Much like last week, the ladies would need to go on with the job. But the Tigers were a much tougher assignment than the Roosters, and it'd take every ounce of energy in the green reservoir to take the two points.
A series of early penalties in the second half undid much of the good work Canberra did charging upfield. They had been truly energized by their half-time break, and seemed to be growing stronger as a unit as the game progressed. Simaima Taufa in particular, was giving the Wests defensive line real troubles, gobbling up meters like an unstoppable green monster.
The Tigers were resolute in defence, however - and despite the overwhelming pressure the Raiders applied to Wests' defensive line, they stubbornly refused to break.
Canberra would eventually find their way around the evil orange and charcoal wall (not the good AFL orange and charcoal), with a slick pass from Zahara Temara to Shakiah Tungai for a meat pie in the corner.
Zahara couldn't add the extras, and the door was opened just a tad for Wests to take the lead.
Instead, Canberra found more cheap meters up the middle, and a rapid platform allowed Monalisa Soliola to sneak through a sizeable gap in the Tiger defensive line. The lead stretched to 10, and the Raiders were once again in the driver's seat.
After once again settling back into the trenches, Wests managed to blunt the green onslaught and found themselves on the attack inside Canberra's 20 - only for Shakiah Tungai to scoop up an errant pass and scream down the right hand side of the field. Kezie Apps, ever the professional, managed to run her down.
Then, the star second-rower decided to be the consummate unprofessional, and reefed the ball out of Tungai's hands, resulting in the most obvious professional foul you'll ever see.
With Kezie Apps in the bin, the Green Machine roared to life once more and Cheyelle Robins-Reti charged over from close range. The lead stretched to a game-high 16. Wests were on the ropes.
However, it would be Wests to strike back, with Leianne Tufuga seemingly being covered in greasy spiders and being impossible to contain. Her first try looked embarassingly easy, and the Tigers were back in the contest. To make matters even worse, the Raiders' injury toll was mounting.
It should come as no surprise that, who else, Leianne Tufuga, made the most of a sublime flick pass and once more put her greasy spiders to use. With two minutes to go and six the difference, the green ladies would need to dig deep.
And dig deep, they did. Even Shakiah Tungai going off with an injury couldn't give Wests the room they needed to find the equalizer - and so for the second week in a row, the Raiders' NRLW side were triumphant.
It had been a solid performance from the troops. With 10% less of the footy, the Raiders ran for more meters, more post contact meters, racked up an average set distance of 50 meters, and blew Wests out of the water with 100 extra kick return meters.
The spine was slick, too. In shades of what Cronulla did to Canberra, but reversed, the green machine middle third laid a platform, and then slick outside back play finished the job. Apii Nicholls once again proved lethal at the back, and the Temara sisters drove the bus with ruthless efficiency.
Bring on round 4. I'll be watching, even if it has to be on free-to-air.
So with the women giving the fans an early hit of dopamine, it would be up to the men to give the fans what they didn't want, which was a dose of frustration.
In recent weeks, the NRL side has struggled for form. Against Newcastle they looked totally out of sorts, and from the sidelines, I'd not been given much encouragement. In the last two weeks, the bill had come due for all the garbage the Raiders had gotten away with over the season.
Jarrod Croker was out with a shoulder injury and Jordan Rapana would be at fullback. Tom Starling was out for young gun Adrian Trevilyan, and the whole thing gave me a vibe of "throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks."
The Tigers were in no way a resurgent club - in fact, since the high point of their 66-18 win over the Cowboys - they have since totally collapsed as a football team. Luke Brooks is on his way to Manly, Api Koroisau got extended by one executive in the club, only for another to throw a hissy fit.
I can only imagine Brett Kimmorley pokes his head above his cubicle, sees the mess unfolding at the club, and secretly thanks the footy gods for putting him in charge of the far more promising Wests Women side.
But as the pyrotechnics blazed and the Raiders rolled out, all bets were off as to who would show up today. If anyone would show up at all.
The first half definitely gave a vibe of "lights off, nobody's home."
The Tigers brought a level of intensity that seemed to catch the Raiders off guard. In fact, Wests spent the first three sets of the game camped in Canberra's 20, and only some tough defence, coupled with an awkward double movement from Jahream Bula, saw the Raiders escape without conceding a score.
Much like the Women's side, the green machine had their chances. Several no-look passes went behind or in front of Albert Hopoate, Jack Wighton cracked the defensive line only to chuck the ball over the sideline, and a fantastic line-break ended with Nick Cotric booting the ball into touch.
In the end, a Jack Wighton bomb with way too much mustard on it found its way into the hands of Sebastian Kris after 25 minutes, who didn't waste the opportunity and dotted down.
The Raiders took full advantage of the change in momentum, with Hudson Young squeezing through a gap to put the Raiders up by 10. Canberra were seemingly turning online, only for the green motor to go cold again.
It didn't help Zac Woolford went off for a HIA, and so "young" Adrian Trevilyan was thrust into the middle and told to go gettem.
Instead, the Tigers would break any momentum the green machine had with a sickening crack, as David Nofoluma picked off an errant grubber kick - and whilst he didn't have the motor, the Tiger reinforcements did. Charlie Staines, the Forbes Ferrari himself, made the most of his accumulated pace and snuck past Nick Cotric in the corner.
Api K's laser boot added the extras, and Canberra would hold a slim lead going into half time.
The green faithful wouldn't have to wait long to see something special, as Jack Wighton spread it on halfway to send Seb Kris sailing down the left-hand side touchline. In a move that showed Canberra stadium and beyond his incredible athleticism, Seb Kris walked from the left side of Bruce stadium to the right, rocketing his way to the tryline in a spectacular individual effort.
Yes, the try was scored as the result of a forward pass, but more on that later.
Whilst it would've been nice to pretend that Canberra might take the game by the scruff of the neck and run up the score after that effort, it was not to be. Instead, Wests rolled up their sleeves and muscled up in defence. They were rewarded ten minutes later by a very familiar play, as the Tiger attack drew in the Raiders defence, before Luke Brooks, who had a solid game all day, popped the ball out to the corner where David Nofoaluma took the easiest catch of his life, and dotted down in the corner.
Api didn't miss, even from out wide, and Wests had once again pulled within four. Recommence the clenching.
Raider fans relaxed a little, after a string of fortunate penalties parked the Green Machine in the Tigers' 20, and Matt Timoko recieved a gift close to the line from Jordan Rapana to ghost through the defence. Once again Jamal Fogarty added the extras, and the lead extended back to 10.
Whilst all this was going on, however, the Raiders were losing the war of attrition badly. After his miracle run, Seb Kris left the field with a hamstring injury. Nick Cotric was forced to depart after receiving a knee in the back of the head, and Elliott Whitehead broke his nose after Daine Laurie headbutted the turf so hard, he rebounded into the veteran's face.
There were centers pretending to be wingers, and second rowers pretending to be centers. It was a mess, and it was little wonder the Tigers were gaining the ascendancy, just as they had when the two sides met earlier in the year.
Wests' forward pack began to get a roll on, and the green machine grimly held on until Api produced a bit of Koroisau magic, perfectly grubbering the ball for Luke Brooks, who shot through the defensive line like a cannon and picked Jordan Rapana's pocket. The last ten minutes would be spent in maximum clench mode.
As per usual, facing a close loss, Canberra grit their teeth and dug deep. Wests had plenty of chances, and the visiting fans drove them on - but time and time again the Raiders found the stops they needed. With a minute to go, Canberra thought they had secured the game after Wests turned the ball over - only for the ball to be stripped, and the Tigers to be right back on the attack.
Canberra defended furiously for the next minute. In the end, it came down to a Luke Brooks bomb, perfectly rehearsed for David Nofoaluma. This time, the kick wasn't inch perfect, and the Wests veteran couldn't take it cleanly. Jack Wighton hammered into him at full speed, and the crowd cheered as it appeared the Raiders had denied the visitors.
Only for the match official to determine the contact was illegal - Wests would get one more play. In the end, Jamal Fogarty scooped up another well-aimed Brooks grubber. It looked like the match official was going to blow another penalty - and there was confusion in the stands - but someone must've gotten in his ear, as he called the end of the game, instead.
And so Canberra had to win the game twice. Another narrow escape to add to the list.
This year has been marked by rubber-banding. Canberra has made an art form of racing out to quick leads and then slowly being pegged back, before finding an extra gear and sealing the deal. When they've won, of course. It's not hard to find examples of embarrassing pummellings, particularly at home, when they haven't been able to rack up a quick score and just lost without putting up much of a fight.
Just as in the game against Newcastle, it seems there's disharmony in the side. Players aren't right, plays are breaking down, and defensively Canberra is leaking points and struggling to make meters.
It seems this year has wreaked an almighty toll mentally on the lads, and the bill has come due for all of their narrow escapes. And unfortunately, the run home doesn't look much better for the men in green - Melbourne, Brisbane, Cronulla and Canterbury-Bankstown will form the back end of the Raiders' season - and at current pace, it's hard to see them winning any of those games.
I'd do some strange things for a bye.
Before I conclude today's article, just a small note with regard to the forward pass that led to Seb Kris' try.
If the game had ended with David Nofoaluma being tackled into touch and the game ending on the spot, I would happily concede that the Raiders got the rub of the green and still lost. Instead, we got treated to having to watch Canberra win the game twice. Any of the good chemicals we received from watching the Raiders win was immediately sucked up by watching as the match officials gave the Tigers a second chance, and nearly a third chance, to win the game.
So don't hassle me with this bullshit about "muh referees letting Canberra win." If that was true, "Nofo" would've been shovelled into touch and that would've been that. Instead we got the NASCAR All Star 2021 finish, but in NRL form. Very frustrating.
This week the ladies travel to tackle the Dragons, and the men head to Melbourne. I'll be watching both, and will be sure to tell you all about it, next week.
Catch you next time,
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