On Monday night the bus carrying a full load of Red-V fans to Canberra clapped out in Goulburn. I was an unenthusiastic about this match as I have ever been, about anything, ever, until I heard this news right before kickoff and became inexplicably animated and highly excited. Something about hearing that the opposition supporters were in a pickle (and in Goulburn, which is really one and the same) fired my core. I don’t know if this was a possible side effect of my unprocessed rage toward the world or what, but it carried me about fifty minutes through the game. The Dragon supporters arrived fifteen minutes before the end, just as the Dragons had pulled ahead 18-16 and looked certain to win. They immediately started making a lot of noise and waving their sophisticated and witty signs around and being fucking annoying and making me think murderous hateful thoughts that originated with them but extended rapidly to the whole damn world.
I’m not blowing any minds by saying that Bruce stadium is no longer the fortress it once was. Teams used to dread playing in Canberra. Ricky Stuart used to make it his personal responsibility before games to stand in the car park and meet visiting teams as they disembarked from their bus, raining threats and curses and making menacing comments about the cold and the unfortunate effects he foresaw it having on their game.
These days are gone, of course. Today, all that remains is the air of a fairground’s faded loveliness.
The air of faded loveliness extends as far as the playing group, but not as far as the coach. Coach Furner’s incompetence is not charming or raffish. It’s just incredibly, incredibly annoying. He does not warrant the sepia-tinged splendor that the Raiders name and history bestows. The bell tolls for thee Furner: consignment to oblivion awaits.
The faded glory thing is nice. Not necessarily useful in any practical sense, but nice nonetheless. The vice-like grip we have the Dragons in is another thing entirely. It is psychologically satisfying in a very deep sense, yes, but it is also the best and most enduring oddity in the NRL.
The fact that it is the Raiders who are the keepers of the game’s greatest hoodoo just enhances the highly improbable and excellent nature of the whole mystifying thing. I mean, any old team can just beat other teams indiscriminately and at will through hard work and good completion rates. It takes truly a strange and enigmatic a team to uphold a hoodoo as potent as this.
This hoodoo is the greatest mystery of the modern game. It is the NRL equivalent of the giant squids with eyes the size of dinner plates. It is the elusive thing that saw Sam Williams do some nifty stuff in the 78th minute to get Reece Robinson over for a try to snatch the game back from the Dragons. It is the same thing that saw Josh Dugan slam down that audacious 80th minute try off a short kick-off last year that won the game. It is the same thing that has kept the Dragons winless at Bruce Stadium for the last twelve years, and has kept that fossil Matt Cooper from ever beating the Raiders anywhere. It’s awesome. It's ours. Long may it endure.