Eels and Blues share that losing feeling across the codes
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At the ten-match mark in their respective seasons, the NRL’s Parramatta Eels and Super Rugby’s Auckland based Blues found themselves in very similar positions.
With just one win from nine outings, the Eels made headlines this week when they were made to front an AGM of 300 irate members.
While the club have claimed the attendance of the entire NRL squad and embattled coach Stephen Kearney had been planned all along, the question remains whether the team would have been in attendance if the Eels were on a winning streak.
Across the Tasman, no one feels for Kearney more than Blues’ coach Pat Lam, who tonight managed a 25-3 win over the Lions to end a seven match losing streak, bringing their season to two wins from 11 outings.
While most wouldn’t brag about a win over the John Mitchell coached Lions, who have finished third to last or worse every year since 2002, Lam will breathe a sigh of relief.
Lam’s face shows the strain of a man who has spent the last eight weeks enduring immense criticism for his All Black stocked team’s inability to pull together a match winning performance. The pressure reached boiling point after the Blues disappointing 34-23 loss to last year’s wooden spooners the Melbourne Rebels.
Lam was bought close to tears as he revealed how he, his family and the team were on the receiving end of racial taunts from fans and through social media, with their Polynesian heritage being blamed for their lacklustre on-field performances.
As these two teams’ seasons appear to mirror one another, it is interesting to see how the clubs, the coaches, the teams and their fans have handled being a part of a losing franchise.
While Stephen Kearney ran from the media pack following Tuesday’s AGM, Parramatta Captain Nathan Hindmarsh stood up and bravely took on the role of the face of the Eels losing saga.
In the Blues camp, Pat Lam has continued to front the media, taking the fall for his squad of international representatives failures and even supporting the clubs decision to advertise the 2013 head coach role early in a bid to attract the best possible candidate.
While players in the Eels camp are being questioned daily about the state of their relationship with Kearney’s, a visibly moved Blues Captain Keven Mealamu voluntarily fronted a media conference to apologise for his teams inability to execute the plans of the man he affectionately referred to simply as ‘coach’.
While the clubs battle internally with the fall out of a disappointing season, the fans of both the Eels and the Blues have turned to social media to vent their frustration. The digital media managers at both clubs will be kept busy monitoring the flow of frustrated comments and taunts from fans, members and rival clubs’ keyboard warriors.
While the Eels faithful have shown they still enjoy their live footy, with a crowd of 28,214 showing up to see the Bulldogs demolish the Eels 46-12 last Friday night, the Blues fans have shown their disdain by not even bothering to watch, with just 10,127 turning up to see the Blues defeat the Lions tonight at Eden Park.
These days the fallout from a string of loses resonates from the coach and team, right through to the sponsors, office staff and fans. While losing is always a possibility in professional sport, it is the manner in which the franchise, coach, players and management deal with the situation that the fans will remember for years to come.
With the glare of the spotlight firmly on Kearney and Lam, it is easy for one to forget that between the two of them they have amassed numerous national and international titles as both players and coaches in their respective codes.
It is unfortunate to think that these losing streaks may define their coaching careers, but that is the nature of professional sport.
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