Sunday afto at Brookie, perfect sunny autumn weather and a bumper crowd. Absolutely ideal conditions to post a big win against the struggling Raiders.
From the get go we showed a determination to flex our attacking muscle targeting their left side defence in a well rehearsed game plan for DCE and Glenn to serve up a Sunday Roast to savour. 9 minutes was all it took to confirm success with Glenn neatly lobbing a pass out to Whare (a late replacement for the overnight sick Wolfman) to expertly plant the ball in the Arko corner for the first try.
Continuing the game plan we opened up opportunities across the park with determined runs and sweeping ball movement. Matai looked to be in a terrorising mood but a big bust came unstuck with a poor finishing touch, as did several others chances with poorly timed last passes. Despite the early frustration it all seemed a minor blimp before pouring on an inevitable 2, 3, or perhaps even 4 more tries, but again the final passes wouldn't stick and the crowd were left waiting and wanting.
It might have been way too early to call it a missed knock out blow, but Canberra certainly sensed they were dodging the damaging punches, and soon they plucked up enough courage to try their own hand in attack. A neat ball put Papalii threw a gaping hole and the crowd were in shock to see a level 6-6 score.
More missed opportunities sent Toovs into an early Des impersonation up in the coaches box. Look out headphones you could be in for a damaging afternoon. Our ability to open holes was far outweighed by our ridiculous impatience to score off every opportunity. Instead of building a platform we were guilty of rushing everything and pushing the final play too far too fast.
A Lussick charge at the line couple with a perfect offload to a screaming Watmough finally stirred the sun drenched crowd to their feet for what appeared to be a sensational try. Choc's speeding rig scorching past Dugan in an arcing run to the try line only to be abruptly called back for an extremely dubious forward pass ruling. An unlucky call but yet another bombed try.
With seconds on the clock we lazily opened our left side gate to let Ferguson away down the hill touchline with only Brett capable of preventing a nightmare 12-6 HT score. But fear not, the master cover defender timed his tackle to perfection and barrelled Ferguson into touch on the stroke of half time to save the day. Every man raced over to thank our no 1 hero, and Toovs left the box steaming for the inevitable half time rev up.
As frustrating as that first half was, there was no reason to think we couldn't and wouldn't come out firing and really put Canberra to the sword. After all, try as they might Canberra without Campese are team that really should be put away solidly. In a mirror image of the first half it only took 8 minutes for the greatly improved Whare to be expertly put over in the corner from a neatly timed Lyon hold and pass. Lyon's conversion attempt was a wayward fizzer leaving the lead at just 10-6.
More missed chances kept Canberra's hopes burning brightly, and when the unrecognisably hirsute Leahroyd-Lars charged for the line like a mac truck it seemed like we were doomed for pain but Brett saved the day again with another courageous tackle. A quick play the ball saw Dugan wrestle himself over, engulfed by 3 defenders who looked to have held him up, but there was no held call and Dugan rolled like an old croc until he'd got the ball down. Momentum still going? Maybe, but only just. Damnit all that effort from Brett wasted.
Suddenly the match that should have been a picnic was turning into a living nightmare. Could we really be trailing 12-10?
Toovs frustrations weren't easing up in the coaches box, but out of nothing Matai cut through a left side hole from the 30 metre line in our half and poured downfield. Determined to do it all himself Matai twisted inside and found Whare brilliantly backing up, but the converging defence saw the ball propelled by Canberra deep into the in goal. A flying DCE appeared to have it covered to plant the try only to be illegally held back, but it mattered not as Lyon was following fast to do the honours for him. A great try and a relieving return to the lead. Lyon's conversion appeared to be too far right but swung into the right upright at the last second before falling onto the cross bar and lobbing over for the unlikely additional 2 points.
16-12 with 24 minutes to go. Surely now we'd really put them away right? I mean really cement the game. Nope. Still more missed opportunities, and even more heart attacks in defence with Canberra now believing they really could win. Time and time again either Brett or Ballin would come up with miraculous try saving tackles, the latter once again superb racking up 52 tackles in another 80 minute marathon display. From a game where our attack should have meant an easy win, our defence was now performing the life saving task.
Canberra's dual obsession of lying all over the ball carrier and standing inside the 10 were doing plenty of penalty damage, with the most damaging of them right in front of the posts. It was one of the those annoying moments in a match when you know you have to take the gift 2 points to make it 18-12, but you also know it could be a momentum killer in the process.
That point was proved in the last 10 minutes with more frustration sending the crowd into a nail biting wince at the very thought of a golden point lottery, or worse still a Canberra field goal even before getting to golden point. Just when it all looked really bad two massively defining moments sealed the deal when Canberra blew huge attacking opportunities with disastrous consecutive possession losses, gifting us waves of relief in the process.
With the final minutes ticking down we positioned ourselves for the door shutting 7 point gap field goal, but by the time DCE could line one up (which sailed wide of the mark anyway), time was up with the siren finally ending the pain. A match that promised so much but ultimately delivered so little, except of course another vital 2 points.
Brett Stewart: If ever there were 9 match winning tackles including 3 try saving pearlers these were them. Superb defensive display.
Jorge Taufua: Despite giving the appearance that he might spill the ball in attack at any moment, showed he could equally clean up many dangerous balls in defence.
Steve Matai: Several brilliant line busts ultimately one of which won us the match, but please Stevie don't forget you have a winger to pass to!
Jamie Lyon: Does he ever have a bad game? Nope.
Dean Whare: How much has he improved? Fantastic display, non stop enthusiasm, and proved he's worthy of a regular place in the side.
Liam Foran: Solid in defence but as Warren Ryan noted the 5th tackle kicks lack any real thought. Nonetheless huge shoes to fill and a solid attempt at doing so.
Daly Cherry-Evans: Not the man of the match we've seen on other days but solid all day and close to glory several times.
Glenn Stewart: Just as last week once again a rock of experience.
Anthony Watmough: 185 bruising metres and a pleasing lack of those silly errors. Unlucky to be robbed of a great try too. Great game.
Daniel Harrison: Very little game time at just 23 minutes so again hard to make much comment.
Jason King: Solid without being spectacular.
Matt Ballin: 52 tackles including a couple of try saving heroic moments plus a very pleasing improvement in attack with 123 valuable metres. Man of the match for mine.
Brent Kite: Ditto Kingy.
Jamie Buhrer: Every week becoming more and more valuable to the team. Energy personified.
Vic Mauro: Does anyone know what happened here? Just 8 minutes seems a very odd stat. Was he injured?
Lussick: That Choc offload gave us a glimpse of the hype but gees we need to see some more.
George Rose: Some gut busting (sorry hard to resist) runs but not the same impact as the MOM Dogs game. Is it me or did he look even bigger than last week?
Aside from some stirling performances from Brett, Whare, Matai, Choc and Ballin, not much else other than the sunshine, the crowd and the 2 points.
Those missed attacking opportunities. We should have been at least 20-0 up at the break with a big platform laid to post an even bigger win, but our complete lack of patience cost us not only those points, but nearly the entire result.
Our way too common trait of going into matches against the lower teams with one eye on a bigger game the following week. We did it against the Titans and paid the big penalty, understandable though it might have been in the context of winning the Desdog war, but blowing the match today would have been triply inexcusable, and it came way too close for comfort.
Yes 44-12 doesn't get any more competition points than 18-12, but a great Sunday afto crowd deserved to bask in the sun a lot more comfortably. Toovs summed it up saying we were simply very lucky to get away with it. The Broncos next Fri night will be a big step up, but we excel in these big matches and a we certainly know how to win up there. Bring it on.