Of the homesick halfback who Ricky Stuart decided to flick before he was really ready to go home, the Raiders coach said: “I don’t know many relationships that have longevity on mistrust”.
But what if the wrong Williams turns out to be the right one?
A Moses Suli falcon handed the Raiders a try in the second half.Credit:Getty
Like he’s done for most of the last few years, Williams played another game of rugby league in front of virtually no one. He also finished it with two tries, helped set up another and maybe could have assisted a couple more if he’d chanced his hand a little more.
That won’t worry Stuart too much, he finally has a steady hand at the wheel as Canberra breathed life into their miserable season with an upset 30-16 win over a Tom Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans-less Manly at Four Pines Park on Thursday night.
“You hear a lot of comment about our situation, ‘we’ve got fractures in the group and issues in the camp’, but we haven’t,” Stuart said.
“We’re all competitive individuals and we want to play finals football. When you’re in a competitive volatile industry, there’s always going to be headbutts. We’re all men and we get on with it.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart at Four Pines Park.Credit:Getty
“It’s a lot different inside our club than what the comment is outside. We’ve been accused of players not putting in and lack of effort, that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
The other smallest man on the field, back-up hooker Tom Starling, had a laugh when he clapped an imaginary crowd as he warmed up along the sideline before kick-off.
Instead of sitting there for most of the match, Stuart injected him into the action in the first half and suddenly the Raiders, who inexplicably conceded three tries to the Gold Coast while the Titans had a man in the sin bin last week, might make a late run at the top eight.
They’ll end the weekend two points outside the finals equation, and in a year when the best of the bad will still be in the top eight, who is to say the Raiders won’t be just that?
Manly’s Dylan Walker has never started an NRL match wearing No.7, but it’s never too late to try something new. If he was hesitant to pass in the opening few minutes, he reverted to what he’s good at – running – to skin Williams for the first try.
Dylan Walker offloads the ball at Four Pines Park.Credit:Getty
Coach Des Hasler would have been disappointed his side didn’t lead by more after Brad Parker fumbled the ball over the line after a sublime pass from stand-in captain Kieran Foran.
“The disappointing thing about the possession part of it, and we can’t excuse ourselves, we were poor on detail,” Hasler said.
“We were guilty of a lot of ill discipline in our defence, we gave them a lot of six-agains. I think they had about eight [forced dropouts]. Of course once that happens, fatigue sets in.”
And the introduction of Starling turned the match.
A couple of months ago, Josh Hodgson was thought to be on borrowed time in the nation’s capital, partly because of the emergence of Starling. Maybe there is a future for both of them in Canberra.
Starling scooted from dummy-half to put the Raiders ahead and the Sea Eagles barely touched the ball thereafter, Williams squaring his own personal ledger when he danced past Manly defenders not just weary, but almost welded to the ground.
So dominant were the Raiders in possession during the first half, Canberra’s bench forward Joseph Tapine (158 metres) almost ran for more metres in 29 minutes than Manly’s entire starting pack (195) before the break, according to Champion Data.
Even after Haulome Olakau’atu and Moses Suli dragged the Sea Eagles back to within eight points inside the final 10 minutes, the Raiders didn’t fade like they have all year.
Maybe the trust long gone in them is just starting to return.
CANBERRA RAIDERS 30 (Sam Williams 2, Tom Starling, Seb Kris, Emre Guler tries; Jarrod Croker 5 goals) defeated MANLY-WARRINGAH SEA EAGLES 16 (Dylan Walker, Haumole Olakau’atu, Moses Suli tries; Reuben Garrick 2 goals) at Four Pines Park. Referee: Adam Gee.
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