The Canberra Raiders were somewhat fortunate to stave off a spirited comeback from Wests Tigers on Friday night, but coach Ricky Stuart was in a fighting mood in his post-game press conference. Stuart bristled at reporters following the 20-19 victory after being asked a question about Jarrod Croker being rested once again on the cusp of his 300th NRL match.
The Raiders eked out the victory thanks to a penalty to Jamal Fogarty in the dying minutes, allowing the halfback to kick the game-winning penalty goal. The Tigers had stormed back to take the lead after trailing 18-0 in the second half, only to be undone when Isaiah Papali’i accidentally took out Fogarty's legs while attempting to run down a kick.
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Croker, 32, will play his 300th game in front of Raiders fans in Canberra, a decision Stuart made clear a week ago and one the Raiders great has said he is comfortable with. Croker last week said he 'appreciated the fact' that his milestone game will come in front of loyal Raiders fans.
However in the wake of the near miss against the Tigers, Stuart was left fuming when one reporter asked if the veteran experience of Croker had been missed on the field as the Tigers came home with a wet sail. An incredulous Stuart was stunned by the line of questioning.
“When did we miss him mate?” Stuart replied. “It was 18-0 with 67 gone.
“You reckon Jarrod would have stopped those three (Tigers tries)? When you’re a leader — and I’m only one of the leaders of this club — and it was a risk (not playing Croker). But in leadership, you’ve got to take a risk.
“These muppets who have been bagging me, they’re all the guys who’ll be reading the textbooks and talk about courageous leadership, man management and they’ll go out and talk at corporate functions, but they can’t go out and execute it.
“They’re not the people I want on my football team. They’re not the people I want in the trenches with me.
“There wasn’t a player there tonight that didn’t want Jarrod to have his 300th game at home. I didn’t plan this last week.
Extraordinary spray from Ricky Stuart in his press conference. Labelling those who criticised his decision to rest Jarrod Croker as ‘muppets’. Said he probably should have just ‘lied’ about why Croker was left out to save the trouble. Got & watch it #NRL #NRLTigersRaiders
— Jake Duke (@JakeDuke1) June 2, 2023
“What I did was the right thing by all our Canberra fans not to go out and buy tickets and come here, to save their hard earned money because I wanted to make sure they knew I was resting Jarrod this week. I could have kept Jarrod in the team all week, they would’ve bought their tickets and the poor buggers would have had to come here after work to see Jarrod play his 300th.
"But no, I did the right thing. I was open and honest, which, I was probably wrong to be open and honest. I may as well just lie.
“It really s**tted me off that these so called experts who have never man managed, who have never been leaders in regards to making tough decisions … and that was a big risk tonight and I knew I was going to cop it, cop it from every one of you in here tonight if we had have got beaten. But I was prepared to take the risk.
“That’s leadership. Not these other muppets that pretend they know.”
Tigers fume over penalty as Raiders eke out narrow victory
Fighting back from 19-18 down in the 76th minute after the Tigers had miraculously hit the front, the Raiders were gifted a second chance after Fogarty's initial attempt was wide. The second attempt found the middle, keeping the Raiders in the finals hunt during the crucial State of Origin stretch.
Speaking after the game, Tigers coach Tim Sheens quipped that he wouldn't follow the lead of his Raiders counterpart and incur a hefty financial penalty by criticising the referees, but said he would be holding discussions with the NRL over the penalty at the earliest opportunity. It was a brutal turn of events for the Tigers, who were looking for a second straight victory after trouncing North Queensland before their bye last weekend.
“Well I’ll make my comments to the referees, but yeah, I’ve got a couple issues, for sure,” Sheens said in his post-game press conference. “I’m not gonna blow up.
"Ricky does that and it costs him $10,000, so I’m not gonna do the same but I’ll have my say - don’t worry about that. Two points are two points and every club is striving for them.
"This month is very, very important through the Origin series, when guys go out like Api (Koroisau), these wins are huge. Halfway through the season wins are huge and losses hurt you big time, there’s no doubt.”
Koroisau, who was watching from the sidelines amid his Origin commitments, was relatively circumspect when asked about the incident. He said was the nature of the NRL in 2023 that late contact to the kicker would inevitably result in a penalty, no matter how minor it was.
“I guess that’s the game these days, you touch the kicker or they end up in a vulnerable position there’s a chance of being penalised,” he said. “I think it was unlucky, I think he was on the ground sliding into him. It is what it is.”
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