A member’s address to the Canterbury Bulldogs board

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By Stuart Thomas, Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    I stand here today with one blue and one white eye. A man born in Canterbury Hospital, raised in Punchbowl, and an ex-student of – the now rebranded – St John’s College Lakemba.

    Sitting cross legged in a second story classroom, surrounded by framed photos of ex-students Graeme, Garry and Mark Hughes is a vivid memory.

    They were heroes of the Bulldogs in the emerging side of the late 1970s and part of the foundation for success that saw the club become a powerhouse in the ’80s.

    Along with a certain other three brothers and a host of young raw talent, our working class club took giant strides forward after only fleeting success throughout much of our history. With the late Peter Moore at the helm, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs embarked on a period of consistency and success unrivalled by most.

    Sustaining representation in semi-final series throughout much of the late 20th century and continuing that run, as the new era of professionalism, salary caps and the financial and corporate interests that exist in the modern game all began to emerge, was an outstanding achievement.

    An achievement that would never escape me – even if our fortunes appeared forlorn, the spirit and heart was always there. Call it what you will, the intangible core of the club has been displayed time after time throughout our 83-year history.

    That is, until now. 2017 will long be remembered as potentially the most embarrassing season that Canterbury-Bankstown has ever endured.

    However, there appears to be some broad misconceptions in regards to what it is that was so embarrassing.

    While some commentary has suggested the membership and supporter base should calm down and realise they don’t have a God-given right to semi-finals and premierships, this is not the origin of our fury, frustration and disappointment.

    The source of those emotions stems from fracturing, disharmony and poor decision-making – decision making that appears to fly in the face of common sense and logic.

    The exact moment those poor decisions coagulated to send us down the awful path we’ve trod for the last three years cannot be precisely identified, however after a grand final appearance in 2012 and a bright and attacking playing style, nobody would have seen this coming.

    With strong management, an emphasis on role modelling and the acquisition of some mature veterans to help shape the squad, there was little sign, that within five years, the team would be uncompetitive and impotent.

    Without lambasting the coach personally, the squad he has assembled is so attackingly limited, risk adverse, slow and ineffective that try scoring has become based on chance and fortune, rather than strategy.

    Gathering forwards from all corners of the globe has achieved the desired effect: we have a big and powerful pack. But the expense has been astronomical.

    The club has rarely possessed a speedy backline that puts fear into the opposition – it’s probably how we are hard wired, perhaps our working-class roots. We play a more calculated game, yet the current version is ineffective to the point of ridiculousness.

    In turn, the recruitment and retention has resulted in such a dearth of creativity that the gameplan has been adjusted to accommodate for the weaknesses.

    After a season of magnificent forward combinations and short passing that seemed revolutionary in 2012, the plan has slumped to something of a farce. Watching front rowers attack the line for four to five plays in the opposition quarter is not modern football.

    Canterbury Bulldog James Graham

    AAP Image/Action Photographics, Colin Whelan

    Teams have become more attacking and subsequently, more skilful and clinical when granted these opportunities. Some clubs do this better than others. In essence, it determines the outcome at season’s end.

    We have fallen off the pace and, with players locked in contractually over the past three years, it has been near impossible to redress the slide.

    The ultimate insult was the signing of Aaron Woods. In desperate need of a solution to the halfback-five-eighth-hooker dilemma, the coach and club felt the need to sign another big man.

    After six years at the helm, Des Hasler should have the team he wants and this is our coach’s greatest failing. It is his team, not an inherited one, built with his own hands and agreed upon by the board.

    Sometimes I question whether the board truly understands the intelligence and insight the Bulldog faithful have in regards to what it is that makes this club great.

    Letting go of quality players, such as Dale Finucane and Tim Lafai, and the employment of a representative player in a key position in the spine who refuses to play on Sundays due to religious beliefs, are just a few examples of such mindless decisions.

    Listening to chairman Ray Dib defend some of the actions and inaction on radio earlier in the year was laughable. An outsider would have thought the club was sitting high on the table, blessed with promising youth and united as one.

    The events of 2017 clearly depict a story far removed from the picture painted by the chairman’s words.

    The saddest part of the entire saga is the lack of accountability, and the subsequent frustrations emanating from the fan-base.

    We have seen good players let go, risky players employed, observed a farcical situation where new recruitment decisions were in doubt due to poor salary cap management, and the re-hiring of a coach whose gameplan seems to have the team on a downward spiral.

    To the board I say: there are many of us who know a lot about rugby league. Don’t treat us like fools with your complete lack of transparency and a façade of control and organisation when, in fact, your poor decisions have led us to this point.

    Some of us have the courage to nail our colours to the mast. I wrote an article for The Roar on October 13, 2016, entitled ‘Whatever happens to Des, things look grim for the Dogs’.

    Whatever happens to Des, things look grim for the Dogs

    To some of us it was obvious. An admission and a change of direction would have been nice. Instead, it has been full steam ahead on the HMAS Denial and thus the supporter base is accused of sour grapes.

    We can deal with losses, errors and bad luck. What we can’t accept are mind-numbingly poor decisions and – potentially even more seriously – a failure of officials to take responsibility and accept reality.

    One sure thing is that we will all be there in Round 1, 2018, to support our Dogs.

    I wonder if all the board members, coaching staff and officials can say the same thing?

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.

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    The Crowd Says (51)

    • August 18th 2017 @ 3:27am
      Farqueue said | August 18th 2017 @ 3:27am | ! Report

      You poor man.
      I lived in lakemba for 4 years and attended punchbowl boys high in the early 80s.
      Unfortunately a certain group of people made it fairly unbearable. Watch my team play everyone except the dogs…No dramas…Play the dogs… Trouble. I feel sorry for all the true blue dogs supporters whose team gets shamed by sections of your supporter group.

    • August 18th 2017 @ 3:52am
      Matt dustby said | August 18th 2017 @ 3:52am | ! Report

      Des made some bad recruiting and retainment decisions – it happens
      Get over it
      This century Dogs have finished 11th or worse 5 times. They fail sometimes

      • September 15th 2017 @ 7:30pm
        Matt said | September 15th 2017 @ 7:30pm | ! Report

        Making poor recruitment is not acceptable when on over 1 million a year and many supporters could see it was wrong

    • Roar Guru

      August 18th 2017 @ 8:30am
      Will Sinclair said | August 18th 2017 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      “The ultimate insult was the signing of Aaron Woods.”

      Ha!

      YOU think that was insulting? Imagine being a Tigers fan and seeing your club captain stolen away by a team that was deliberately and recklessly ignoring the salary cap! The Dogs literally signed him using salary cap space they don’t have.

      Sorry – but I CANNOT have any sympathy for the Dogs or their management. Hopefully, this is only the first in many years that the Bulldogs are left in the cold.

      • Roar Guru

        August 18th 2017 @ 3:00pm
        Magnus M. Østergaard said | August 18th 2017 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

        Well, Will, in good news for your, Woods’ contract is only approved provided the Bulldogs can get under the cap. Should they be able to by the start of the 2018 season, Woods and/or Forans contracts are null and void.

    • August 18th 2017 @ 8:44am
      Gray-Hand said | August 18th 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      Hasler tried to do at Canterbury what he did at Manly – recruit and retain a great team by backending contracts and promises of future upgraded contracts. It let Manly win premierships with a team full of underpaid stars.
      Hasler was smart enough to bail out before the senior players turned from under paid stars to overpaid hasbeens that were taking up salary cap space for new recruits. Manly came within a hairs breath of losing Cherry-Evans as a result. It has taken them years to come back and the club still bears the scars.
      Hasler has done exactly the same thing at the Bulldogs, presumably with the consent and support of the board, only this time they couldn’t quite snag the trophies to show for it. They do still have Greg Eastwood on $800k for 2018, though.
      The Bulldogs have another couple of hard years ahead of them. If Hasler gets sacked, I feel sorry for the coach who has to pick up the mess.
      Hasler will do the same thing at his next club.

      • Roar Guru

        August 18th 2017 @ 8:56am
        BigJ said | August 18th 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

        No he wont, no club would be stupid enough to hire him.

        • Roar Pro

          August 18th 2017 @ 10:00am
          J.C. said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report

          hey man, glad to see you are back on the roar. When are you going to finish those top ten lists of yours??

          • Roar Guru

            August 18th 2017 @ 10:02am
            BigJ said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

            Hey man thought you were going to give it a crack???. Anything interesting happen since i have been gone???

            • Roar Pro

              August 18th 2017 @ 10:04am
              J.C. said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

              not really, I have only been drifiting in an out of the site, i was going to try to write something but it did not work out. maybe another time.

              • Roar Guru

                August 18th 2017 @ 10:06am
                BigJ said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:06am | ! Report

                Get into it ya blugger!!!. Your a pro now, you have got to do something. Get some work up you ya slacker!!!.

              • Roar Guru

                August 18th 2017 @ 5:05pm
                The Barry said | August 18th 2017 @ 5:05pm | ! Report

                With witty repartee like that the long winter nights must fly past…

                🎶I’m starting with the man in the mirror.

                I’m askin’ him to change his ways🎶

              • August 18th 2017 @ 5:48pm
                Johnybulldog said | August 18th 2017 @ 5:48pm | ! Report

                Thank christ your hear baz..you had me worried…stop going awol! Been waiting for this all day…well played

              • Roar Guru

                August 18th 2017 @ 11:46pm
                BigJ said | August 18th 2017 @ 11:46pm | ! Report

                Wtf

    • Columnist

      August 18th 2017 @ 8:48am
      Stuart Thomas said | August 18th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

      Hi Will,

      I thought most Tigers fans were pleased that he is leaving? That seems to be the general feeling I’m getting. I spend a bit of time in Tigerland and many seem to be hopeful for a team that appears to be starting to take the shape that Cleary wants. Woods is such an enigma. Sometimes achieves good numbers, yet I want more from a forward that crab running and tackle flops. The Dogs deserve everything that comes there way after appalling governance over the last three to four years. Not looking for sympathy, I’m sure many fans feel like you do and it is well deserved. Cheers

      • Roar Guru

        August 18th 2017 @ 9:22am
        Will Sinclair said | August 18th 2017 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        Hi Stuart,

        I’m a huge Woodsy fan – I think at club level he is as good as any front rower in the competition (although he possibly lacks the pure mongrel and fear that you need at Origin).

        More than that – he is a local junior, a proud Tiger and the captain of our club. And he was destabilised and lured away by a rival club that simply didn’t have the salary cap space to fit him in. I think it’s a disgrace!

        (I agree with you that the Dogs don’t need him though – he’s really not the sort of player they need to sign!)

        Apologies if my post was unduly harsh on the fans – trust me, we Tigers fans know better than most what it’s like to suffer at the hands of incompetent management!

        Cheers.

    • August 18th 2017 @ 8:57am
      uglykiwi said | August 18th 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      You had me until you wrote:
      Letting go of quality players, such as Dale Finucane and Tim Lafai.

      Really Tim Lafai…………… have you watched him play???

      • Columnist

        August 18th 2017 @ 9:28am
        Stuart Thomas said | August 18th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

        Lafai has reportedly been one of the most committed trainers at the Dragons this year and his offloads have been noticeable. His ability to beat a man one on one was impressive and after investing much time and effort into him, the Bulldogs let him go. I think he was a little lost. He was exactly what the backline required moving forward and was maturing into a really solid centre. I know many might not see it, but I’ll stand by his quality. Time will tell.

        • Roar Guru

          August 18th 2017 @ 10:37am
          BigJ said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

          Stuart your probably best finding yourself other team to support. Its works for me.

          • Roar Pro

            August 18th 2017 @ 10:39am
            J.C. said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report

            try the Storm, they are going alright at the moment.

            • Roar Guru

              August 18th 2017 @ 10:41am
              BigJ said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:41am | ! Report

              Get back to work ya blugger. Dont make me come over there!!

              • Roar Pro

                August 18th 2017 @ 10:53am
                J.C. said | August 18th 2017 @ 10:53am | ! Report

                Yes Sir

              • Roar Guru

                August 18th 2017 @ 5:10pm
                The Barry said | August 18th 2017 @ 5:10pm | ! Report

                Does that mean you go for 12 teams now?

      • August 18th 2017 @ 9:50am
        Adam Bagnall said | August 18th 2017 @ 9:50am | ! Report

        He can be frustrating at times, but this year he has been pretty good, and is one of the top offloaders in the NRL

      • August 18th 2017 @ 9:55am
        KenW said | August 18th 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

        Lafai didn’t live up to his reputation in the first year of his Dragons career but he’s found his mojo again this year and been quite dangerous. Great footwork in traffic, occasionally a little too happy on the offload but much improved on his form from last year.

      • Roar Guru

        August 18th 2017 @ 5:09pm
        The Barry said | August 18th 2017 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

        Lafai was absolutely outstanding in 2014.

        2015 ruined by injury.

        2016 he struggled.

        This year he’s been very good. I like his blend of footwork and power – when he was younger he’d always try and put footwork on defenders and not run hard.

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