Six again. You can talk about the 2019 NRL grand final until you feel like you’ve rubbed your larynx with sandpaper but these are the only two words you will ever need to say.
Six again. The phrase will forever evoke one of the most infamous incidents in NRL history, a moment of gobsmacking confusion that turned an incredibly engrossing contest into an utter farce.
Six again. The very mention will forever fill Canberra Raiders fans with despair, taking them back to that moment deep in the second half when the game was there to be won by their defiant heroes.
The score is 8-8 and the Raiders have had the Sydney Roosters trapped near the goal line so long they could claim property rights in their defensive twenty.
The Raiders kick, the ball rebounds back into their hands and then … what?
Must they put on a final play or do they have another set with which to launch yet another raid on the Roosters’ heavily fortified line?
The answer comes quickly and unequivocally. Referee Ben Cummins standing near the in-goal directly in the attacking Raiders’ line of sight waves his hand in a gesture that can only mean one thing.
So eventual Clive Churchill Medal winner Jake Wighton is not guessing when he takes a tackle and gets ready for another set. His actions are directly and unquestionably guided by the referee’s call.
And then it isn’t six at all. The call has been changed. The Roosters have the ball and moments later they have scored the winning try.
So what should have been a celebrated NRL grand final will be forever overshadowed by a legitimate controversy, not just another of the molehills turned into mountains by the game’s incessant crisis merchants.
Twitter: NRL on Nine Graham Annesley
The NRL’s attempt at damage control was rapid and predictable. NRL Head of Football Graham Annesley played the «one wrong made a right» card by claiming that the correct decision was made the wrong way.
Besides, Annesley argued, if the Raiders had scored from an incorrectly awarded repeat set then controversy would have raged about that.
Which completely misses the point. By getting the right decision in the wrong way the course of the game was completely changed.
If the Raiders had not been fooled by the referee’s call into believing they would have, yes, six again perhaps they would have tried a grubber kick or a bomb or even another pass that would take the ball a few metres away from where the Roosters inevitably played it.
Who knows? That is the hollow feeling the Raiders will carry with them through the preseason. Given how hard it is to make an NRL grand final, let alone win one, perhaps it will be with them for the rest of their careers, even their lives.
All eyes turned to Canberra’s combustible coach Ricky Stuart after the game as they might toward an active volcano puffing clouds of black smoke.
But Stuart was too smart to erupt in front of the microphones. As the veteran coach said, there was nothing in complaining for him except accusations he was a poor sport attempting to rain on the parade of a team he once coached to a premiership.
Instead, Stuart expertly loaded the media’s guns for them.
Stuart: «Why don’t you say what you think?»
Twitter: NRL on Nine Ricky Stuart press conference
Reporters: «They made the wrong call.»
Stuart: «OK, well write it.»
And we will. For years and years because grand finals are like historical documents. And this was a cock-up of historic proportions.
If there can be consolation for Raiders fans understandably outraged by the rescinded call of six again, it will be that their team had been magnificent.
In the opening minutes the Raiders had suffered another potentially defining misfortune when the ball rebounded and struck a Roosters’ trainer instead of giving them the chance to charge toward the line.
This was followed soon after by a Roosters try that might have been a dagger in their heart. Yet the Raiders slowly changed the game’s narrative with an at-times dominant performance in defiance of their generous odds.
In such circumstances you are supposed to say that good fortune is part of sport so the Roosters unequivocally deserved their victory.
In this case, it is difficult to say that for sure.
What you can say is that the Roosters resisted Canberra’s attacks with incredible resilience and might well have done so again had the Raiders been given six again, or not been mistakenly told they would get another set.
You can also state unequivocally, as Roosters coach Trent Robinson noted, that his team fully exploited the luck that went their way.
«We nailed the execution,» said Robinson.
You might even argue the tale of this match should be «Roosters again».
To become the first team to win back-to-back titles in a united competition since the Brisbane Broncos 26 years ago was an enormous effort.
Especially given the pressure the Roosters’ now-fabled defence soaked up in the second half as the Raiders got the whiff of a famous upset in their nostrils.
Perhaps it should be «Teddy again».
It seemed almost destined the Dally M Medallist James Tedesco would be on the end of Daniel Topou’s pass to score the winning try and complete a perfect season.
But it won’t.
This NRL grand final will always have a two word title.