As the NRL season starts to take shape, a team’s culture and fabric becomes paramount. High-performing teams seek to find the sweet-spot and slip back into winning ways, others, seeking improvement, meddle with processes in order to find the magic formula.
All clubs are unique in terms of the way relationships mould and shape their culture, and at times finding the right words to describe this is extremely difficult.
Therefore, on this occasion, it will not just be words that do the talking, it will be music as well.
If each NRL team could be explained through a song, what would it be? The song must capture the state of the club as it stands right now. I thought I’d give it a shot.
There is probably no better place to start than with the premiers.
1. Cronulla Sharks – ‘I touch myself’, The Divinyls, 1991
Never has such a community of people been in more of a lather, and good luck to them, they deserve it. Fifty years in the making, the Shire has been prancing, strutting and swaggering with attitude since October.
With the weight lifted from their collective shoulders, the success could be freeing or create a bar too tough for the Sharks to match in 2017.
Either way, the late Chrissie Amphlett’s voice provides a wonderful soundscape to what was a perfect season.
2. Melbourne Storm – ‘Love will keep us together’, The Captain and Tenille, 1975
Once again, the Storm showed us just good they are and just how brilliant Craig Bellamy is. Sure, the odd player leaves for an opportunity elsewhere, but their consistent success forces players out.
Otherwise, nobody wants to leave. It’s a complete love-in. The masters of the siege mentally. The image of the players and coaching staff marching, backs turned, across the field in the midst of the salary cap scandal is vivid. A culture like no other team, really.
3. Canberra Raiders, ‘The real thing’, Russel Morris, 1969
This is the fundamental question facing the team from the nation’s capital and their much maligned coach Ricky Stuart. There is no doubt they have a solid squad, yet is the class and depth there to threaten the experience of the Cowboys or Melbourne? Morris provides a telling question with his biggest hit.
4. North Queensland Cowboys – ‘Glory days’, Bruce Springsteen, 1985
Fans will look back at the Johnathan Thurston era and reflect on the little man’s genius and the lengthy period of success the club has enjoyed.
Logic suggests a tough period without their ringleader yet he may have one last hurrah before he rides off into the sunset. It might just be worth watching.
5. Brisbane Broncos – ‘My way’, Frank Sinatra, 1969
Belligerent as ever, the Broncos have always done things just the way they wanted. Handshake deals with coaches, ownership structures and a bizarre set of circumstances that saw them locked in to a standard timeslot almost every Friday night, have delineated the club from others – and, at times, added weight to a perceived bias.
It’s hard to deny them the success they have had, considering the heavy toll during Origin period. Although it might be fair to ask why they generally have more Origin players than anyone else. Just a thought.
6. Penrith Panthers – ‘Kids’, Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue, 2000
Let’s face it, the Panthers could do anything or nothing. Still such a young backline and the addition of James Tamou might appear to add experience and leadership, yet remember, it is James Tamou.
If they do get on a roll at some point, they could look like winners but can they do it when it really matters?
7. Canterbury Bulldogs – ‘Sledgehammer’, Peter Gabriel 1986
I give these guys a rough time every now and again, and they are my team, but seriously, Des Hasler needs to find a combination in the halves to create opportunites for the outside men.
The kicking game is poor at best and using warriors like Josh Jackson as human wrecking balls (that song ran a close second) will only achieve so much.
8. Gold Coast Titans – ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’, U2, 1987
U2’s greatest album, The Joshua Tree, provides a perfect accompaniment to the Titans’ history and current situation. For 11 years now they have tinkered, bought, sold and experimented, and are still yet to find the answer.
The signs were positive last year and many feel they will play finals football again this season. Let’s hope, sooner or later, they find the elixir.
9. Wests Tigers – ‘The entertainer’, Scott Joplin, 1902
There is no better tune to express the Tigers’ adventurous, brash and expansive game. The long period of mediocrity they have experienced could lead to them becoming everyone’s second team.
If they can tighten up just a touch in defence and maintain their sense of adventure, they could do some damage in 2017.
10. New Zealand Warriors – ‘Break on through (to the other side)’, The Doors, 1967
And what a breakthrough it will be. The floodgates could well and truly open if the Warriors get the culture right and the enormous resources of both players and capital mould them as one of the NRL’s dominant clubs.
Mind you, we have been waiting for quite some time now.
11. St George Illawarra Dragons – ‘Take me back’, Noiseworks, 1987
The last 30-odd years, apart from an expensive investment in a certain coach, have been something of a disappointment.
Grand final appearances litter the landscape, yet with one premiership in the last 38 years, fans long for the days when the Red V brought fear into opposition fans and players.
Paul McGregor can’t look back, he needs to take risks to get the current squad rolling. He might not have a job if he doesn’t do something soon.
12. South Sydney Rabbitohs – ‘GI Blues’, Elvis Presley, 1960
If the loss of Issac Luke wasn’t tough enough to take a few years back, seeing Greg Inglis on one leg for the majority of the past three seasons has been beyond disappointing for Bunnies fans.
Having that much of your salary cap hampered by serious, long-term issues is untenable and the chances of a return to anything near his former self is looking further off than ever.
13. Manly Sea Eagles – ‘Puppet on a string’, Sandie Shaw, 1967
It’s not so much the cattle that looks the issue with Manly, they have recruited well and should improve. A larger question seems to be whether the man pulling the strings has what it takes to improve this squad to be semi-final standard.
An unproven coach, Trent Barrett would be feeling considerable pressure as the season begins and this will mount further after a couple of losses or disappointing performances.
14. Parramatta Eels – ‘I fought the law and the law won’, Sonny Curtis, 1966
The saddest part of this song selection is the fact that the ‘law won’. Parramatta copped it last year and deserved everything thrown their way.
Yet they are a resilient lot and the belief that the playing group appears to have in Brad Arthur might override potential pitfalls, as they strive to get back to top-eight play come September.
15. Sydney Roosters – ‘Diamonds on the soles of their shoes’, Paul Simon 1986
No matter where they finish, the boys from Bondi will always be a little bit special. They’ll meet for lattes on Monday mornings, do recovery sessions in beautiful locations like Coogee Beach, and for these and an array of other reasons, will always have their chances pumped up pre-season.
They have amazing depth and talent, as they did last year. But can they keep their eyes on the prize for long enough and do the tough stuff, rather than being distracted by their own reputations and importance. 2017 stank of underperforming and selfish players.
16. Newcastle Knights – ‘Like a virgin’, Madonna 1984
Much was made of the youth in the Knights squad last season and the moment has arrived for them to show more than promise and potential. Nineteen losses in a row hurts, yet there have been some positive signs already this season.
Fans might need to be patient once again, despite a couple of decent, experienced signings, because the squad are largely kids that need another year or two. Fingers crossed for Knights fans around 2019.