The years are starting to roll on since the Broncos’ last title in 2006. What are the main factors behind the drought for one of Australian sport’s most successful clubs?
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Don’t believe the views of those fruitcake ‘rationalists’; modern rugby league professionals are not normal people like you and me.
Unlike the quiet lives of us laymen who endure an endless struggle for survival on the hamster wheel, today’s footballer is blessed with a lifestyle equal to an exotic cologne advert played out inside a casino-fitted Playboy mansion.
Their day-to-day life – flush with financial freedom, keeping healthy and spending weeknights at The Ivy on the pull – is an existence far removed from reality, and when embellished with their usual against-the-odds backstories of redemption and roughhouse upbringings, it makes for great Wikipedia viewing.
But instead of being envious of these superior humans, let’s get experimental. Say if we excluded outliers like the family men, the scholars and Jason Stevens, what would happen if we combined every player’s life story in to a blender and hit the wiz button?
You would be presented with a coarsely-textured median paste that is the average NRL footballer. And here it is.
Walters Mortimer-Burgess – aka Average Joe – was born and raised in a fibro home on Struggle Street in a moderately-sized fringe suburb. As was the style in those days, he and his family lived modestly in a blue-collar motif, with Dad working 22 hours a day and Mum raising a brood and running the local tuckshop.
From a young age, Average Joe loved his footy, but due to the frail financial position of the family, was unable to afford his own boutique stadium on which he could hone his skills. This meant that he was forced to play barefoot against old deros on the dirt road, forcing him to develop a deadly left-foot step, a sharp intuition and calluses.
At the age of 16, he began attending a non-descript Western Sydney sports education facility. It was here that he began to excel in league, prompting Andrew Johns to label him the greatest young talent he has ever laid eyes upon. It was a major claim from the legendary Knight, which stood for close to 17 minutes before the next prodigy was brought to his attention.
From here, Average Joe earned his first full-time contract with South Sydney. Procedurally, within three months he had been lured to the Roosters, and it was here that he made his name with some devastating and desperate performances befitting a man yet to secure his first deal of ludicrous largesse.
This inevitably led to his name being mentioned in rep circles, and it wasn’t long before he was given his first taste of honours, representing City when six halves pulled out with sweat rash. The rookie delivered a man of the match show, and in direct contravention of state selection guidelines, this was enough to have him drafted in to the Origin squad.
At this point, Average Joe’s profile had risen to superstar status. He was officially in high demand, evident by the increase in Saturday guest appearances at car dealership sales and stints as an uneasy panel member on The Sunday Footy Show.
With his Roosters contract approaching renewal, he began honest and transparent discussions with club officials to remain a committed one-club man – provided his terms could be met, of course. This process included stalling, dummy offers and leaks to the press about links with various rugby clubs both in Australia and offshore.
Eventually, Average Joe passed over on the Roosters’ generous offer and opted to take a lucrative deal with the Titans. But after putting on weight and suffering a loss of form, he fell out of favour. This left him with no alternative than to feign home sickness.
After much hard-balling, he reached an agreement with Gold Coast and was released on compassionate grounds to return to Sydney to be nearer to his family. Upon his return, he was subject to criticism when it came to light that he only had one relative remaining in the area – a cousin-in-law who lived in Emu Plains. So he placed himself on a media ban.
Now an unemployed, overweight and self-important diva, Average Joe was picked up by Cronulla. Revelling in the relaxed governance of his new club, he began spending time with other footballers of questionable repute in the city’s hottest nightspots. Inevitably this resulted in an alcohol-related incident involving a taxi, what was alleged to be apple juice, and Willie Mason.
After a lengthy internal investigation by the club, and despite a grovelling apology and some opportunistic charity donations, he was subsequently sacked in a blaze of shame after playing only two games.
Adding insult to his predicament, Average Joe had ruptured an ACL when he fled from the cab with his pants down, making him a questionable prospect at best for potential suitors. Later on in his career, he described this as his lowest moment, stating that he “nearly gave the game away to go to TAFE or play for Wee Waa”.
Desperate in Gymea and looking for a second chance, he was thrown a lifeline by Craig Bellamy and the Melbourne Storm. Here he was signed to a bonus-only contract, taken under the wing of a club leader and fitted with a security anklet.
Sensing this was his last chance at the big time, Average Joe went public with a pledge to “repay the faith Bellyache has shown” in him and set about putting in his best pre-season ever, one even better than the last one. In addition to this, he adopted a low-carb, mid-protein, high-altitude, Atkins-Paleo diet that was complemented by extra sprint training and a ban on anything by Nanna’s.
Average Joe’s shift in attitude eventually paid dividends. He thrived under Bellamy’s dictatorship, enjoying the simplicity of his role in the forward pack and the anonymity afforded to league players in the city’s casinos and red light districts.
After playing a full season in another typical Storm charge to the playoffs, he finally felt that tingle so familiar to the modern footballer – no, not chlamydia, it was redemption.
After winning back the respect of the rugby league public, he had returned to his rightful place in the game – a serviceable and well-remunerated employee who was no longer a brand risk.
After one more season at the Storm, Average Joe rejected a desperately overblown offer from Canberra to agree to terms with the Tigers, a deal upon which he reneged. Then he signed with Les Catalans in the English Super League, pending visa approval.
Announcing his departure, an emotional Average Joe thanked his cousin-in-law before stating he had nothing left to achieve in Australia.
“When I started playing footy, all I ever dreamed of doing was two things; to buy my Mum a house, and to play in England for a great club like… Ahh, shit. I’ve forgotten their name.”
Average Joe returned to Australia after playing in the Super League until he was 47, retiring on 145.3 first grade games across all competitions. Upon return, he dabbled in state politics before buying 25 pubs and supplementing his income with freelance commentary and brand endorsements for a pool repair franchise on a low-rating Sydney AM radio station.