Campo’s Corner: Why St George Illawarra against Wests Tigers is the people’s match of the round

There is no problem in rugby league that can not be fixed by winning. It cures everything.

Coach under pressure? Win some games. Want a new contract? Win some games. Newspapers on your back? Win some games. Fans not showing up? Win – and this can not be stressed enough – some games.

If you suggested two weeks ago that the Dragons hosting the Tigers would be close to the match of the round, they’d have called the men in the white coats because you would clearly be a danger to yourself and others if you would entertain such delusions . They were not really playing football – football was just kind of happening to them.

And yet here we are, with the joint ventures going head to head on Sunday in a match that intrigues and excites despite the sides sitting 10th and 13th on the ladder. That’s what winning can do. It can transform a game between two teams who were flat out beating a drum not long ago into the people’s match of the round.

Rugby league players celebrate a try
St George Illawarra have scored two pulsating wins in a row. (Getty Images, Mark Evans )

If that sounds stupid, it’s probably because it kind of is. Both teams enter this game on two-match winning streaks, both secured in dramatic fashion, but it would still take a brave or foolish fan to say either of them is finals material.

Parramatta’s clash with North Queensland in Darwin will likely have a far greater bearing on the race for the premiership. It will likely be of higher quality than Dragons-Tigers.

But in Dragons-Tigers, we see the hidden truth of rugby league – the quality of the play or the caliber of the teams involved is not as important as how the game makes you feel, because perfectly executed football and football that lives on in your heart are not always the same thing.

Most of us do not know what it’s like to have greatness on our site every week. Only a precious few fans know what it’s like to support a team like Penrith, who are beginning to look like one of the most dominant teams in NRL history, or Melbourne, who have been so good for so long that any loss is treated like a death in the family.

Everyone can watch those teams and enjoy them, but not everybody can know how that feels.

This Dragons-Tigers match is what most of rugby league living really is – hoping against your better judgment that this time, the progress your team is making is for real, that they’ve really turned a corner and you will not have to pretend to believe because the proof will be right in front of you.

Jackson Hastings celebrates kicking a field goal
The Tigers have not had much to cheer about before the last two weeks. (Getty Images, Matt Blyth )

It’s true that two wins in a row are not many, and three aren’t much more than that. Unless the Saints put the cleaners through their opponents, neither team will finish the week in the top eight. But it’s been a while since either side had something like this to feel good about.

The last time the Tigers won three in a row was when some guy named Ivan Cleary was coach, back in 2018. The Dragons did it last year, but that’s the only time they’ve saluted for longer than a fortnight since 2019.

No Wests or Saints fan is foolish enough to believe that three straight wins in the first half of the year guarantee a finals berth. Regardless of who wins, these are probably not teams who will still be playing in September.

But who cares what happens months from now if you get one more week where you can turn to the fan beside you and say something stupid like, ‘I tell you what, we could really have something here’, and feel like it’s true, and the existential despair that’s currently enveloping Canterbury and sneaking up on Canberra can be avoided for at least a few more days?

Unless your team is a genuine chance of winning the premiership, pushing that feeling back for another week is the greatest gift they can give you.

The Tigers and Dragons have been there, and they’ve done that, and they know exactly how empty it feels to be staring May in the face and knowing everything is already over until next March. The path to the end of the season is long and arduous when you’re already dead.

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