With cheers and one final Viking clap, the Canberra Raiders were welcomed home by hundreds of their adoring fans at Raiders Belconnen Club after their grand final heartbreak on Sunday night.
Sadness and disappointment weren’t the dominant emotions that filled the crowd as each player was welcomed on to the balcony – it was pride. Pride for the side that had the most successful season in a quarter of a century. Pride for the way the team had handled themselves on the NRL’s biggest stage. Pride in being a Canberran.
“I am very proud of our performance on the weekend,” coach Ricky Stuart said, addressing the crowd. “It is a great disappointment that we don’t have the trophy here but we certainly haven’t lost anything. We gained so much respect throughout the season and it was replicated again on Sunday.
“Personally, as a coach, I am so proud of this mob,” he said, as his voice started to break.
The sea of green at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night also reminded Stuart why he was proud to call Canberra home.
“I also can’t thank the region and the community here in Canberra enough for the drive and the extra energy they gave the whole club,” he said. “Just seeing the stadium on the weekend made me proud to be Canberran and to say that I live here.”
The show of support even took captain Jarrod Croker by surprise.
“We have spoken about how good the support has been and how good our fans are all year,” a visibly dejected Croker said. “Sunday was no different and today was no different. I certainly did not expect this today.”
The only reference to the controversial aspects of Sunday’s result was mentioned in passing.
“We defended our asses off on the weekend and it was a massive effort but we were unlucky,” Croker said. “We gave ourselves every chance to win but I could not be prouder of everyone up here today. We will be back.”
One of the loudest cheers of all was reserved for Sia Soliola, who won the Ken Stephen Medal for his community work with the homeless and disadvantaged in Canberra. It was a just reward for a man who spends most Monday mornings down at the soup kitchen, who shaved his head to raise money for charity and showed a random act of kindness towards a woman in distress.
“For me, this comes part and parcel for who we are as football players and as Raiders,” Soliola shared. “Looking out for everyone has been a huge part of my upbringing, so that is what I try to do.
“I am just so proud of Canberra and the things I do for this place is just an outpouring of the love and the relationship I have with Canberra.”
Crowd favourite Sia Soliola welcomed home by the Canberra Raiders faithful!
Posted by The Sporting Capital on Monday, 7 October 2019