1 May 2024

For the Raiders, milestone games are too often the ones they'd rather forget

| Tim Gavel
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The Sharks dominated the Raiders in a game that celebrated Ricky Stuart's 500th NRL game as a coach

The Raiders’ lacklustre performance against the Sharks marked Stuart’s 500th NRL game as a coach. The Sharks won 40-0. Photo: Jayzie Photography.

In recent years, milestone games have been akin to kryptonite for the Canberra Raiders.

And you don’t need to look too far for evidence.

Sunday’s game against the Sharks at Canberra Stadium was Ricky Stuart’s 500th as an NRL coach. Clearly, this is a significant achievement. Only Bennett, Sheens, Smith and Bellamy have more coaching experience.

Ricky was keen to avoid any hype and wanted it kept as low-key as possible. He seemed to want to keep it a secret from the players to avoid any distractions.

Ricky Stuart watches on during his 500th NRL game as coach

Ricky Stuart watches on during his 500th NRL game as coach. Photo: Jayzie Photography.

But word eventually got out. Players started talking about the importance of the game for the coach.

As it turned out, the Raiders put in one of their more lacklustre performances, losing 40-nil.

Earlier this season, there was hype surrounding Jordan Rapana’s 200th game for the Raiders.

The Sharks spoilt the party with a 36-22 victory after recovering from being down 18-nil.

Last season, there was an incredible build-up to Jarrod Croker’s 300th NRL game, becoming one of the few players in NRL history to reach this milestone.

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In an effort to maximise Croker’s moment, he was rested the week before against the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown to ensure he played his 300th game at home at Canberra Stadium in front of his family and friends, of whom there were plenty.

The crowd of over 22,000 was the biggest for a regular season game in recent times.

In that milestone game, the Warriors beat the Raiders 36-14.

When Jason Croker ran out for his 300th NRL game amidst much fanfare in 2006 against the Broncos, the Raiders were in total control in the first half, leading by 18, before the Broncos came over the top, winning 30-28.

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There are exceptions which veer away from the kryptonite theory.

The farewell game for Laurie Daley, Brett Mullins and David Furner in 2000 at Canberra Stadium resulted in the trouncing of the Roosters 40-12. A rainbow overhead provided a fitting backdrop.

The Sharks celebrate another try in their 40-0 victory over the Raiders

Ethan Strange, head bowed, as the Sharks celebrate another try in their 40-0 victory over the Raiders. Photo: Jayzie Photography.

In 1994, Mal Meninga’s last home game was a momentous occasion – over 25,000 fans crammed into the stadium.

The grandstand, named in his honour, was a feature of the afternoon as the Raiders beat Western Suburbs, 40-22.

How clubs celebrate significant milestone moments presents an interesting dilemma.

Raiders Captain, Joe Tapine carries the ball forward during the Raiders-Sharks game

Raiders captain Joe Tapine carries the ball forward during the Raiders-Sharks game. Photo: Jayzie Photography.

On one hand, it can become a distraction and use up energy unnecessarily in the build-up.

At the same time, it’s important to recognise achievements as they occur.

Another aspect worth considering is the memories the celebration of a milestone moment creates for the players and their families.

There is potentially an argument that creating these memories has equal significance, which becomes even more substantial later in life.

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