Cynicism of Bellamy and Hasler pays off
The explosion of violence at the end of the first half at Brookvale last week was the inevitable result of the methodology of Des Hasler and Craig Bellamy, two of the cleverest and most effective coaches in the game.
A rugby league coach has a number of basic tasks to achieve: developing tactics, teaching moves, selecting teams and so forth, but their most critical task is motivating a group of large fit skillful men to overpower and defeat similar group.
There are any number of ways to accomplish this, few as consistently successful as the one used by Bellamy and Hasler, known in the industry as ‘the Major Payne strategy’.
It comes from a scene in the 1995 classic, when Payne explains his plan to win the Virginia Military Games to school counsellor Emily Walburn. By uniting the boys in their hatred for him, he plans to draw them closer together and make them a team. When she questioned his cynicism, he replied that at least it wouldn’t backfire.
Hasler has shown himself to be a genius with young halves and in developing forwards who play as hard and ruthlessly as he did, only larger, faster and stronger. But his magic has been in convincing his team, and indeed most of his fans, that for some reason the NRL is conspiring against them.
Back in 2009, the NRL prepared their promotional campaign with a great ad showcasing a young boy in the park growing into brilliant young Manly fullback Brett Stewart. A few week later, they were forced to junk the very expensive ads and watch him on the front page of the newspaper every day facing serious police charges from a drunken incident.
At the time, rugby league rabble were screaming at the NRL to kick him out of the game and make an example of him.
Instead NRL CEO David Gallop stood strong, punishing him for being drunk as a skunk at the official function earlier that day and waiting for the justice process to be complete before any other measures be taken. Ultimately, it was exactly the right decision as Stewart was found innocent.
Hasler has used this incident to unite his squad in the belief that NRL is against them. He has his players honestly believing that the people who run the game are trying to undermine them.
When they get penalised, cautioned, suspended, it is not because they did something wrong, it is because a sports administrator has a grudge against them.
Similarly, there is Bellamy, who last year had the enormous misfortune to find out his team was run by a crook.
Through no fault of his own, he had the triple whammy of having all his titles stripped, a nearly full season to play for with no chance of finals and then, when his team finally could start playing for points, it would be without their star player and a host of others.
Many supporters, this writer included, thought that there was no way the players would continue to turn up each week and put their body through punishment. You only need to watch teams out of the finals race going through the motions to see the effect.
Instead Bellamy’s men were competitive in every game they played, and would have hosted a final had they been scoring points. This year, with the team pulled apart to get under the salary cap, they have been the dominant force in the game all season.
It is one of the most remarkable coaching feats you will ever see.
He achieved this with the Major Payne strategy of convincing his players that the NRL had robbed them of their titles and was biased against them because they weren’t from Sydney.
Like Hasler, he managed to convince his team that every time they ran on the ground, they weren’t just playing the other team, but they were sticking it to the man.
They employ a simple but extremely effective strategy that unites the players against the enemy. Not the team on the other side of the field, but life itself, as they are driven to prove wrong those that are conspiring against them. Regardless of the amount of bunkum involved in convincing them of the fact.
The ladder shows how effectiveness this strategy is. Indeed, the only drawback of this plan is that it leaves the players in a weak position in terms of personal responsibility.
Why should you work on your discipline in tackles if you are being penalised because the referees have been told to, as opposed to being penalised because you keep hitting people in the face.
Similarly, the smiling Brett Stewart from five years ago has been replaced with an angry jilted man who thinks the world hates him.
He could have dealt with 2009 like an adult, a brutal lesson which cost him some time on the sideline but taught him a lot and left him able to play at the highest level.
Instead, encouraged by his coach, he can’t move past it, and lives convinced that the NRL chief who treated him with great fairness should have predicted the future and known he would be found innocent. He lives waiting for an apology which will never come.
But, of course, this is a small price to pay for a win.