A member’s address to the Canterbury Bulldogs board

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By , 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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