This week I have been reflecting on the power of a loss – unfortunately my mighty Raiders did not provide food for thought on this key topic as, of course, the slick and finely tuned magnificent Green Machine beat the Storm last week at AAMI Park in Melbourne. In doing so they brought the Storm’s 15-game winning streak to an end, and generated a torrent of wise contemplations on the relative merits and demerits of wins and losses.
Listening to Terry Campese and Cameron Smith speaking to the press after the tense and entertaining match, I was reminded of locker room interviews I had conducted after the Rabbitohs beat the Sharks in Round 2 this year. The similarities didn’t just extend to what was being said, although that was important, but what impressed me just as much were the tempered moods in the rooms. The triumphant Rabbitohs were not that triumphant at all, but rather morose and annoyed, whereas the vanquished Sharks were, if not triumphant, then certainly quite buoyant and optimistic.
On that occasion the winners played undisciplined and disappointing footy, whereas the losers showed lots of resolve and effort in very tough times. Sam Burgess confirmed that the ‘role reversal’ wash-up was much the same at Souths after their loss to the Storm a couple of weeks ago – the boys from Redfern were actually pretty upbeat after the game, took a lot of lessons from it and recognised the loss as a really timely check for them and their season. As we know now, these were indeed lessons well learnt – the Rabbitohs’ two games since have seen them playing aggressive, brilliantly executed footy, delivering emphatic wins against quality opposition.
So where does last week’s Storm loss leave this week’s round? Many followers of rugby league can’t think of a team that hates losing more than the Storm, so most of us will probably have some sympathy for the Panthers as they run onto Centrebet Stadium on Sunday evening. Home ground advantage often can see you over the line in tough, gritty matches, but it is hard to see the Storm letting this match degenerate to tough and gritty. Bellamy’s boys will be pumped up and unwavering, and are likely to demonstrate in their return to crisp, effective, stylish and winning footy that they can learn the lessons of a loss as forcefully as any team in the league.
Normally a May Sunday afternoon game at Canberra Stadium would be a bracing affair, in temperatures not guaranteed to be much higher than the low teens. Our Indian summer, however, has spread to the national capital, and the warmth of the welcome home the victorious Green Machine will receive from their steadfast fans will match the mercury. The Raiders have taken their lessons this week from history, and have talked some pretty smart talk about the necessity to back up last week’s performance with hard work, not hype – the signs are that we shall not see a repeat of last year’s devastating loss to the Titans after the Storm win, and Round 3’s pretty savage loss to the Knights. The Newcastle visitors will certainly be expecting a tougher encounter this time.
Ricky Stuart’s philosophical utterings this week were directed at the Eels fans: “Stick with us,” he urged, and it’s easy to see why he was encouraged by the improved performance of his new side and combinations against the Cowboys. Whilst it’s hard to argue that Parramatta have been in the contest but not walked away with the points for the majority of their season, there are signs that they are taking the appropriate lessons from their defeats. Be that as it may the Broncos will be pretty confident heading to Parramatta Stadium for Saturday’s game, and rightly so.
Some pretty famous sportsmen have made some pretty famous comments on winning, losing and how you play the game. What I love about our game, week after week, is perhaps best reflected in the thoughts not of a sportsman, but of the American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou, who observed: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.”
However we deal with our defeats, most of us learnt our first coping strategies from our mums and dads. This weekend rugby league mums will watch games from the sidelines of junior grounds, from the modest stands of strong community clubs, from the well-appointed reserved seating of NRL facilities and from living rooms right across Australia. To all our mums we say thank you, we love you, and we wish you a very happy Mother’s Day.