With the first head of a coach having rolled for the year, losing to the Knights apparently too embarrassing for the Bulldogs board to swallow, it would seem as though the 2022 season has its wooden-spoon-elect.
But to declare that Canterbury are good things to finish the year with the fewest wins seems a bit premature.
Coming last this season is shaping as a bit of a pass-the-parcel type deal.
For the first five weeks of the year, the Tigers were holding the package, having started 0-5 and with whispers about Michael Maguire’s future having grown into a roar.
Then they secured that famous, one-point win over the Eels – who, it’s worth noting, have beaten the Storm and Panthers – and followed that up with another victory by the slimmest possible margin over 2021 grand finalists the Rabbitohs, and suddenly the knives were put away.
These victories were obviously important, but there was also cause to look elsewhere for who would be the worst team of the year, as the Knights – decimated by injury, but then aren’t they always – went on a seven-game losing streak to sit at the bottom of the table.
It’s the kind of form patch that would have any coach sweating over his future, and surely Adam O’Brien realised he was in strife when club CEO Phil Gardner told the Sydney Morning Herald, “We hope that Adam is with us for the next 10 years.”
That right there is like receiving the ‘full backing of the board’ – code for ‘dead man walking’.
However, the 16-6 win over the Bulldogs on Friday night was a significant easing of pressure on the Knights’ coach and his charges.
Of course, the heat that left the situation in Newcastle was applied directly to the Dogs, with Trent Barrett quitting (read: jumping before he was pushed) his post as coach.
It was a significant turnaround in the space of little more than a fortnight, the Berries having given the Roosters a 16-12 touch-up on the last day of April, before being beaten (although hardly embarrassed) 14-4 by the Raiders in Round 9.
As for why Barrett is no longer in charge, basically it’s because his roster is not quite top-eight quality, but it’s better than he’s managed to get them to perform.
When you’ve got Matt Burton, Josh Addo-Carr, Tevita Pangai Junior, Paul Vaughan, Matt Dufty and Brent Naden joining a group that already had Josh Jackson, Corey Allan, Jeremy Marshall-King, Aaron Schoupp, Joe Stimson and Luke Thompson, you’ve got some pretty fair players on your books.
Again, not a roster that’ll make waves in the semis, but certainly good enough to improve on 2021’s last-place finish.
And that’ll be why Barrett no longer has a job – because there surely is a belief at Belmore that the right coach will see the parcel palmed off to the next side.
As for who that could be, well it’s a little too soon to tell – Barrett has just cleared out his desk, so the Bulldogs will continue to be considered the team most likely for the time being – especially after a wild old weekend at Magic Round.
The Raiders may have been in the conversation but they brought the previously high-flying Sharks back to Earth on the weekend with a thud, Canberra winning 30-10 over a side considered top-four contenders.
The Titans also recorded a relieving win, getting up 20-16 over a St George Illawarra side that should probably be too strong to finish the year on the bottom but have been patchy at best, their wins coming over the Warriors, Knights, Roosters and Tigers.
As for the Kiwi side, there’s just no telling what version of their side will turn up on any given day – or any given half.
The Bunnies were up 26-0 over them by the 35-minute mark on the weekend, only for Nathan Brown’s boys to decide they would play some footy, giving the punters in Brisbane an almighty finish as Souths squeaked home 32-30.
It’s absolutely wild to realise that had the Warriors managed to finish the job, they’d be outside the eight purely on for and against, the Bunnies sitting at the bottom of the finals spots with a 50 per cent winning record for the year.
Which suggests at least one side will make the finals, yet again, without having a winning record – an even mix of victories and losses should be enough to play September footy.
Which also suggests that fans of almost every team continue to carry a candle for their finals fantasies in 2022.
I mean, my brother and I went through the Knights’ draw over the weekend and had the boys in red and blue on 16 points by the start of July (c’mon big win over a Penrith side missing ten players due to Origin).
Delusional? Sure, but that’s what being a rugby league fan is all about.
So I won’t cast any aspersions on other fans and their hopes of seeing their side featuring when a win can mean a week off and a loss can mean six months.
I don’t know if any Canterbury fan believes they’ll make it, but nor should they accept that the wooden spoon will be theirs again this season.
Maybe a bit of a shake-up was required. As for just how shook up they are, I guess we’ll find out when the man who’ll oversee the rest of their season is announced.