Canberra coach Ricky Stuart was filthy with the league prior to his side’s clash with the Sydney Roosters after it was first revealed his team wouldn’t be allowed to fly up for the match due to COVID-19 protocols.
After the Raiders upset the Sydney Roosters 24-20 in the grand final rematch, he might just want to load a bus full of beer and drive the thing back to the nation’s capital himself.
Without star hooker Josh Hodgson and heavy outsiders against the defending, back-to-back premiers, the ‘Green Machine’ not only outlasted the Roosters – they finished with all the running.
Young Roosters playmaker Kyle Flanagan has been praised for his performances thus far in 2020 but chairman Nick Politis – high in the stands at the SCG – would have been impressed by Hodgson’s countryman George Williams who cut the Roosters up with all the precision of a world-class surgeon.
The Roosters weren’t poor – they were as clinical as ever.
People probably expected them to kick-on after half-time when they held a 12-6 lead.
Canberra had other ideas.
They started the second stanza with a lovely try to captain Jarrod Croker who grounded a Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad grubber.
Halfback Williams then sliced the Chooks up the middle and did it all himself to score next to the posts.
This did not look like a side that was missing their great dummy half.
In Channel Nine’s commentary, Phil Gould suggested Canberra might be a more dangerous offensive outfit without Hodgson calling the shots from the ruck.
Without Hodgson, the priority becomes Jack Wighton and Williams and Nicoll-Klokstad on the back of that.
The true difference tonight, however, was the mighty Josh Papalii.
At one point he was involved in a minor incident with Roosters second-rower Angus Crichton.
Crichton swung his elbow while wrestling on the ground and connected flush with Papalii’s face.
The big Canberra bookend retaliated with a love slap.
Crichton got the penalty.
It didn’t matter in the end.
Papalii would have the last laugh though as he took a ball from the inside, twenty metres out from the Roosters line, changed direction before taking the pill to beat the chasing defenders to the chalk.
The Auckland-born 28-year-old is ageing like fine wine.
It feels like he’s already been around forever.
How is he only 28?!
He has become such a great front-rower that people might forget how good he was as a damaging line-runner on the edge of the ruck back in his youth.
Canberra proved against the Roosters that they can be as good as they want to be.
When you watch the Raiders, they look like battle-hardened warriors scrapping for everything.
The Eels and the Panthers are slick and look very impressive.
But there’s something a little too ‘shiny’ about them.
There’s nothing shiny about the Raiders and that is most definitely a compliment. They are rough, bloody, broken glass, and there’s still the raw memories of last year’s grand final.
If Williams and Wighton can continue to play off the back of performances like that from Papalii and company – who says Canberra can’t knock off the Roosters again? Or Parramatta, Penrith or the Storm?
They are a class outfit with mongrel.
Anybody playing the Raiders come the finals should be very wary.