Why the Dragons have fallen so far

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    The Dragons take on the Eels in a game all about pride. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Steve Christo)

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    In a recent article, mastermind5991 asked the pertinent question: where has it all gone wrong for the St George-Illawarra Dragons.

    Mastermind mentioned the current crop of players at St George-Illawarra, but I think the problems with the Dragons go much higher. I believe the main problem lies in the current board and management, and the present situation parallels the demise of the Parramatta Eels in the late 1980s.

    Although I was only a kid in the late eighties, I fondly remember the great Parramatta team from that era, when Eels fans enjoyed the club’s first golden period during the decade of bad hair and synthesisers.

    The former CEO Dennis Fitzgerald was given much of the credit for Parramatta’s success, having taken over as CEO of the club in 1973 when Parra was in a state of disrepair, and building them into one of the most successful clubs of the eighties.

    However, the club’s last premiership in 1986 saw the retirement of two of their all-time greats in Mick Cronin and Ray Price, while other key players like Peter Sterling, Brett Kenny, Peter Wynn, Steve Ella and Eric Grothe retired a short time later.

    Fast forward to 2010 and St George were also a team of ageing stars who had likewise provided great service to their club, but who were only a few years from retirement – Gasnier, Cooper, Creagh and Young.

    And like Parramatta in 1986, the current Dragons board has failed miserably to replace those players, despite an enviable junior league and sufficient funds in the kitty.

    Player management is not just about sourcing and attracting top talent (from juniors and external sources), but is also about retaining talent. Both Fitzgerald in the nineties and Peter Doust in the noughties have failed here.

    For Parramatta, the board’s inability to rebuild their roster meant the club failed to make the finals between 1987 to 1996, and despite brief periods at the top, the club has been in the doldrums ever since.

    This brief history teaches clubs like St George-Illawarra a few lessons.

    Firstly, although success is never immediate, with a strong and committed management, a team can attain great success in a relatively short period of time. Namely, Parramatta went from wooden spooners in 1970 to grand finalists in 1976, before earning their first premiership in 1981.

    Similarly, the South Sydney club was arguably in an even more parlous position in 1997 when Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court took over. As with Parramatta, success has been a hard grind, taking several seasons to build, but has culminated in the present season being the best for the Cardinal and Myrtle since 1971.

    The second lesson is that while success normally builds slowly, failure can beset a club very quickly. This has certainly happened to the Dragons, who have gone from Premiers in 2010 to potential wooden spooners only three years later.

    Of course, this has happened to other clubs before – Roosters fans in particular have experienced a roller coaster in the past decade, from premiers in 2004 to the spoon in 2009, and back to a grand final appearance in 2010.

    So, why have the Dragons fallen where other clubs have enjoyed consistent success (Storm, Canterbury and Manly) or experienced relatively brief periods in the cellar (Roosters).

    In the case of St George-Illawarra, I don’t put this down to the players, but to the board, and in particular CEO Peter Doust and his fellow management.

    Back to Dennis Fitzgerald at the Eels. Although Fitzgerald had contributed significantly to the Eels going from cellar dwellers to Premiers, by the time he was finally forced out of the club in 2009 he had served as CEO for a remarkable 36 years.

    I can think of very few leaders who are able to maintain their position at the top for such a length of time – unless we’re talking about political dictators. Indeed, Fitzgerald’s nickname was ‘The Emperor’ and he apparently revelled in that moniker.

    The ’emperor’ tag provides an insight into the problem experienced by the Eels, and now St George. With rare exceptions, a man like Fitzgerald who maintains leadership at the top for so long is often a leader who treats his club as his own personal fiefdom, rather than as a club that is owned by the supporters.

    Like a dictator, he invariably makes decisions that are designed to preserve his position of power, rather than decisions that are beneficial to the club he is meant to serve. While there are rare exceptions (like Ferguson at Manchester United), leaders who behave this way invariably fail to bring long-term success to their clubs.

    I see Peter Doust as being the present-day Dennis Fitzgerald.

    Like Fitzgerald he presided over a successful period for the club, including a fruitful merger with the Illawarra Steelers and finally a Premiership in 2010.

    However, like Fitzgerald he has also presided over a rapid fall from grace for the club, mainly due to his management’s failure to rebuild the player roster.

    And like Fitzgerald, it seems to me that Doust is treating his position as though the club is there to serve him, rather than the other way around.

    Sadly, Parramatta retained Fitzgerald at the helm for such a long period that irreparable damage has been done to this once proud club. St George is only a few years into their decline, but if they do not act to reinvigorate the board and management, the fans of the Red V may be looking at a similarly long period at the bottom.

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    The Crowd Says (48)

    • July 12th 2013 @ 7:21am
      Pomoz said | July 12th 2013 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      Con, whilst I don’t disagree with the principle that the CEO and the board should be held responsible for a clubs failure, you have provided absolutely no evidence that Doust makes decisions for his personal benefit rather than the clubs. You need to give specific examples of where he has done this rather than make the bold assertion “the club is failing, therefore it is because Doust has made decisions to benefit for him”. If you are going to attack someones character in a public forum, at least have the decency to provide evidence of his selfish decisions so we can have a debate.

      What you have written is just nasty character assassination and you have even managed to slander Peter Fitzgerald on the same basis. Again, no evidence to support your case. Come on Con, you can do better than this.

      Just so we are clear on this. I am not arguing that Doust is a good CEO, his record speaks for itself. But, unless you can provide examples, he does not deserve to be accused of being selfish. Nor does Fitzgerald for the same reason.

      • Roar Guru

        July 12th 2013 @ 8:20am
        Con Scortis said | July 12th 2013 @ 8:20am | ! Report

        Hi Pomoz,

        Thanks for your comment, however I think you missed my point – perhaps I worded it poorly, if so I apologise.

        What I was alluding to in relation to Fitzgerald was the fact that he retained his position at the helm for an astonishing 36 years, despite a significant portion of that period (especially from say 1990 to 2007) being a period where the Eels were performing poorly both on the field and as a club (financially and otherwise). Hence the dictator analogy.

        I can think of no CEO in the business world, for example, who is able to retain positions of power at the same organisation when their tenure is so poor. Same in any field – whether you’re a school principal or surgeon or police chief or otherwise – if you perform poorly (especially over a long period), then you’re normally out of a job.

        Further, I wasn’t referring to specific misdeeds and there likely were none. Rather, I was criticising the way in which Fitzgerald was able to retain his position as CEO for nearly 4 decades despite such a poor overall record – if that isn’t self-serving and “selfish”, I don’t know what is.

        There are other clubs that have experienced the same thing – for decades Souths had management that were able to retain power for extended periods without ever providing success on and off the field. Indeed, South’s former management almost led the club into extinction and even then several key players from that period of decline still fought hard to retain power. They, more than any other group, were responsible for the long period of South’s decline and like Fitzgerald at Parra, they fought tooth and nail to retain their positions of power to the very end.

        Does this make them corrupt? No. Does it make them self-serving and selfish? Yes.

        As for St George, I was again not suggesting that Doust or the management have done anything wrong. They haven’t done anything illegal or corrupt. That is clear. Rather, by relating the St George management to Parramatta’s in their period of decline I was trying to say that they remind me of the old-school rugby league management (like Parra under Fitzgerald) that is able to retain power for years and years despite long-term under-performance.

        Hope that clears it up.

        • July 12th 2013 @ 9:23am
          Pomoz said | July 12th 2013 @ 9:23am | ! Report

          Con, thanks for taking the time to respond. I understand what you are saying but my comments are based on these two statements:

          On Fitzgerald;
          “Like a dictator, he invariably makes decisions that are designed to preserve his position of power, rather than decisions that are beneficial to the club he is meant to serve.”
          On Doust;
          “And like Fitzgerald, it seems to me that Doust is treating his position as though the club is there to serve him, rather than the other way around”.

          Let’s distinguish between making poor decisions and decisions designed to serve your own best interests at the expense of the clubs. Whether the decisions made by Doust and Fitzgerald are good, will be evidenced by the outcomes they achieve. Clearly, based on the current situation at the Dragons, Doust and the board have made a few poor decisions. The same can be said for Fitzgerald based on the evidence of the results achieved. That doesn’t mean the decisions are self serving. They could be, although I haven’t heard of an example for either of them where a decision they made was for their own selfish benefit.

          I understand that you may be implying that because they have stayed in the job so long, that is evidence of them being selfish. Again, that is subjective because they may believe they are the best person for the job. I concede though, you could argue that staying on, when things are going wrong is being selfish. Equally you could argue that resigning when things are going wrong is showing a lack of fortitude and is deserting just when things get tough.

          Putting aside their state of mind in staying in the job for a long period, I think it is unfair to call them selfish for staying in the position as long as they have. My reason for that is that the board appoints the CEO. It is their decision on how long the CEO’s tenure is. It is the boards of the Dragons and the Eels that have allowed the two CEO’s to stay in their position. Neither Doust or Fitzgerald can stop a board from removing them, provided it is done following appropriate due process.

          Based on the results achieved, I agree that the board’s of the Dragons and the Eels have failed the club in allowing the CEO’s to remain in place for too long. The question is why did they?

          • July 13th 2013 @ 10:49am
            Suffering Dragon said | July 13th 2013 @ 10:49am | ! Report

            Pomoz. I think the evidence Con is saying is clear. Why cant the football club members vote on the board and its structure then.

    • Roar Guru

      July 12th 2013 @ 8:58am
      peeeko said | July 12th 2013 @ 8:58am | ! Report

      you might end up being right but you probably have jumped the gun. as for the roosters and bulldogs they have been terribly inconsistent over the last decade. over the last couple of years the dogs have finished 6th, last,2nd,13th,9th and 2nd. the roosters have finished 14th,10th, 4th, last, 2nd,11th and 13th

    • Roar Guru

      July 12th 2013 @ 10:07am
      mastermind5991 said | July 12th 2013 @ 10:07am | ! Report

      Just to correct you: The Roosters last won the premiership in 2002, not 2004. Also, Parra went from spooners in ’72 to grand finalists in ’76, and ultimately, premiers in ’81.

      The Roosters’ downfall was mainly caused by the retirement of Brad Fittler and the club was unable to find a genuine replacement until they signed up Braith Anasta for the 2006 season. But his combination with Anasta and Finch backfired, which was what led the club to finish second last in 2006.

      But as someone has already noted, the Roosters have been terribly inconsistent (top four finish in 2008, spoon in 2009, Grand Final in 2010, no finals appearances since until this year).

      This year they are headed for the finals having recruited SBW, James Maloney and Michael Jennings, as well as a new coach in Trent Robinson. There is finally something to like about the Roosters this season.

      • Roar Guru

        July 12th 2013 @ 10:23am
        Con Scortis said | July 12th 2013 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        Hi Matermind,

        I mentioned the inconsistency too in the “roller coaster” comment. They sure have bought exceptionally well to get the team on track this year, including recruiting an exceptional coach.

        Thanks for the corrections – I got the dates from the wiki Parramatta page, rather than from my memory bank. Can’t trust anyone nowadays!!

      • Roar Guru

        July 12th 2013 @ 10:23am
        Con Scortis said | July 12th 2013 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        Hi Mastermind,

        I mentioned the inconsistency too in the “roller coaster” comment. They sure have bought exceptionally well to get the team on track this year, including recruiting an exceptional coach.

        Thanks for the corrections – I got the dates from the wiki Parramatta page, rather than from my memory bank. Can’t trust anyone nowadays!!

    • July 12th 2013 @ 10:24am
      Christo the Daddyo said | July 12th 2013 @ 10:24am | ! Report

      You blame the Board (for both the Dragons and the Eels) for poor player recruitment. This is unfair. The blame should be aimed at the recruiting and coaching staff.

      • Roar Guru

        July 12th 2013 @ 10:34am
        mastermind5991 said | July 12th 2013 @ 10:34am | ! Report

        Parramatta bought Carl Webb in 2010/2011 and it backfired badly. It also appears that Chris Sandow is not enjoying his time at the Eels, he’s been dropped to reserve grade for this weekend.

        Also I feel the Dragons signing Josh Dugan has also backfired as well, despite his exceptional debut in Round 10 this year.

        • July 12th 2013 @ 7:31pm
          Dr Chop said | July 12th 2013 @ 7:31pm | ! Report

          How has the Dugan signing backfired? He has been nothing short of the Dragons’ best since signed

        • July 13th 2013 @ 9:14pm
          Devout Saint said | July 13th 2013 @ 9:14pm | ! Report

          @Mastermind, Dugan could be the best signing Saints have made in the last 30 years.

          • July 14th 2013 @ 8:35am
            Suffering Dragon said | July 14th 2013 @ 8:35am | ! Report

            @Mastermind…Dugan V Beale. I know he will be expensive part of the cap and higher risk / maintenance but I’d know who will be more affective.

      • Roar Guru

        July 12th 2013 @ 11:16am
        Con Scortis said | July 12th 2013 @ 11:16am | ! Report

        Hey Christo,

        The recruiting and coaching staff have an important role to play, but ultimately they report to the management and board. I would imagine it’s management that has final sign-off when it comes to player recruitment.

      • July 13th 2013 @ 10:54am
        Suffering Dragon said | July 13th 2013 @ 10:54am | ! Report

        At St George Illawarra recruitment staff are Craig Young, Peter Doust and Warren ? from the board. The coaching staff are consulted but have minimal input. (fact …except for Wayne Bennett)

        • July 13th 2013 @ 9:16pm
          Devout Saint said | July 13th 2013 @ 9:16pm | ! Report

          I think it is Warren Lockwood, but not 100% sure.

          Danny Robinson is our club President, he has been there ever since I can remember.

          • July 14th 2013 @ 8:39am
            Suffering Dragon said | July 14th 2013 @ 8:39am | ! Report

            @Devout Saint. Thankyou.. Lockwood is the missing link – 100% They are the Larry, Curly & Mo of recruitment management. Steve Price is the one they hang by the toes over the balcony.

    • July 12th 2013 @ 11:52am
      rossco said | July 12th 2013 @ 11:52am | ! Report

      Crowe and PHAC did not take over Souths in 1997 – it was in 2006.

    • July 12th 2013 @ 3:59pm
      Dayer said | July 12th 2013 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

      Why has the cowboys fallen down so far

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