Canberra could be drinking Raiders Lime like it’s ‘89
Last weekend I watched one of the best games of rugby league ever played.
At the end of the Tigers v Roosters match I just sat frozen in my chair starring at the field with my mouth open like some kind of busted sideshow clown. It wasn’t so much anger or sadness that the Tigers had lost - it was shock at what had just transpired.
Like most games of this magnitude, this one had its fair share of controversial (that’s code for completely crap) refereeing decisions that cost the Tigers the game, but ultimately I was glad to be present. But this isn’t really about the Tigers loss, or even the Roosters, it’s actually about the Canberra Raiders.
Tonight the Wests Tigers play the Raiders in Canberra for a spot in the preliminary final against the Dragons.
Watching that game last week I was reminded of the infamous 1989 Grand Final between the Balmain Tigers and the Canberra Raiders. Perhaps the best Grand Final ever played. Fortunately the stakes weren’t as high last weekend, but as much as I hate to say it, things are looking more like 1989 for the Raiders this year.
I wrote about the 1989 Grand Final once before. The game broke my heart but, as these things invariably do, cemented my love of the Tigers.
Returning to Canberra this week there is a feeling of momentum around the Raiders not unlike 1989. Like the run into the ‘89 Grand Final, the Raiders have won nine of their last ten games and tonight’s semi-final is going to be the biggest crowd in Raiders history (this is aided by the fact that the previous biggest crowds were when the old stadium couldn’t fit as many as it can now).
Raiders fever hasn’t been this contagious in Canberra since some weirdo at the milk factory decided to combine citrus and dairy, resulting in a bright milk called Raiders Lime.
The Green Machine period that resulted in Raiders dominance (with the Brisbane Broncos) from 89 to 94 has not returned, but it’s been replaced by a more alluring tag in 2010: that of the Cinderella team.
The Raiders are, in Tiger’s coach Tim Sheens own words, this year’s Cinderella team. Every year the competition needs one of these. The Cinderella team may not win but they’re the razzle dazzle battlers everyone wants to see win: Parramatta in 2009 or the Tigers team of 2005 who took out the Premiership for instance.
In order to lay claim to the narrative of the Cinderella team you need to be an underdog, and it’s a status the Raiders enjoy.
This is a team that was somewhat hilariously named as one that couldn’t possibly be cheating the salary cap because they have no money and ability to hang on to their best players. It’s a team that few pundits gave a chance of making the finals, and prior to the Storm having competition points stripped, weren’t a bad bet for the wooden spoon. It’s a team of old souls like Alan Tongue and green bolters like Josh Dugan; players of the kind the Raiders have been producing but not holding in recent years. It’s also team that has been battling with crowds, suffering at the hands of Canberrans’ often fair-weather attitude towards sporting teams.
Last week’s loss to the Roosters was heartbreaking, 1989 is still heart breaking, but in a strange circular “the universe knows best” kind of a way, seeing the Raiders lift the trophy this year wouldn’t be all that bad.
(Here’s an ad for Raiders Lime if you didn’t believe that this stuff actually existed, it tasted okay actually much like Yakult)
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