Criticism and challenges as a new @storm front sets in Melbourne #NRL #RugbyLeague #purplepride

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“So what’s wrong with the Melbourne Storm?” It’s a question that is being asked by all rugby league fans. After a decade of dominance and success, consistency is a term that often gets associated with the Victorian franchise. Whether they’re making grand finals or not, everyone has always known what you’ll get from the Storm, that being consistency. Melbourne’s dominance has come through relentless hard work, building a strong culture combined with innovation, the Storm revolutionising the game in all facets of play.

Notoriously known for their strong defence, the Melbourne Storm became the benchmark in this area. No-one could quite slow down the ruck, win the wrestle and scramble when needed. They evolved into a methodical structured machine with clinical execution and structures that opposition teams have tried to emulate but still fall short of being the meticulous Melbourne juggernaut. They are a club that has featured in the finals 10 times in the past 11 years. Consistency again is the theme.

Yet 2014 has seen anything but the consistency rugby league fans have been accustomed to when watching the Storm over the past eight weeks of competition: flimsy defence lacking the sting, aggression and intent that has been a staple for the Storm. Their attack? Well it is been anything but polished or systematic. Their execution has been way off and ball control has been a constant issue, surrendering possession and placing undue pressure on themselves as a unit. Captain Cameron Smith has questioned the mental toughness and attitude of the team. Coach Craig Bellamy has stated that not everyone is on the same page. Storm halfback Cooper Cronk believes that their needs to be consequences for the sides poor form and that starts at training.

There is no doubt, Melbourne are off. Be it through one specific reason or multiple factors that are contributing to the side’s woeful start to the year. The Alex McKinnon-Jordan McLean incident has taken its toll mentally and emotionally on everyone involved within the Newcastle and Melbourne camps. Reports even suggested that coach Bellamy even considered resigning from his post because of the disillusionment surrounding the unfortunate saga. Even though they are professional athletes, we often tend to forget that they are still human. Whilst this may be one reason, it is definitely not limited to this one central incident. What is to explain the poor un-Storm like defence? The sluggish attack? The lack of consistency?

Cracks started to appear late in 2013. A trip to Brookvale Oval saw Melbourne comprehensively beaten and outclassed by their arch rivals in Manly-Warringah. What followed were straight-set defeats out of the finals. Coach Craig Bellamy believed the Storm were not their hungry selves and lacked the usual ‘September Buzz’. Critics labelled them a tired football team, with Melbourne playing an unbelievable amount of Rugby League from 2012 which included winning the premiership, a host of players involved in the October Test match; offseason training beginning in November, resuming in January; travelling to England to partake in the World Club Challenge; NRL All Stars fixture, trials matches, premiership season proper in 2013 which included early season travel to Townsville and Sydney most weekends, the Origin period, finals and then onto a 10-week World Cup campaign. Who wouldn’t be fatigued with that amount of football Melbourne’s best players had to endure?

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(Photo courtesy of http://resources1.news.com.au/images/2012/09/30/1226484/929789-cooper-cronk-cameron-smith-and-billy-slater.jpg)

An aging Big Three. All three superstars, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk are now 30. All are current incumbents in the respective Australian and Queensland Origin teams, yet many critics have now taken aim saying that all three are over the hill; past their best; too old and are not the players they once were. Smith and Cronk have been vocal in saying that age is nothing more than a number, and both feel as fit, fresh and competitive as they ever have. Do we need any more evidence when looking at the likes of Steve Price, Petro Civonceva, Darren Smith and recently Darren Lockyer who all played representative football well into their mid 30’s? What many seem to be forgetting is that all three players featured heavily in Australia’s World Cup success last November; the Storm trio being the best players on field in the World Cup final triumph against New Zealand. While Slater has sustained injuries to both his knees in the past three years, having surgery on his return from England last December, Slater missed the entire off-season and pre-season. His slow start to 2014 surely has to be a result of a severe lack of conditioning and match fitness, missing all of Melbourne’s trials. Whilst Cronk also was behind the eight ball in his preparation, having shoulder surgery after carrying the injury for most of the 2013 season. But one thing is for certain; all three players are duteous and incredibly thorough when it comes to their training, rehabilitation and recovery, putting the ‘P’ in professional. Storm mentor Craig Bellamy is on record stating you will never see three players work harder. Their work ethic sets the benchmark for their peers.

The loss of experience and key personnel. Since 2012, the Storm have lost a host of players who made them the team they were. That key ingredient was experience. The loss of veteran half Brett Finch, forwards in Richie Fa’oso, Jason Ryles, Jaiman Lowe,Todd Lowrie, Sika Manu, Centres Dane Nielsen, Maurice Blair and the miraculous English pivot in Gareth Widdop. That is some quite substantial playing talent that the Storm can no longer call upon or expect their inexperienced youth to all of a sudden come into First Grade and pick up where they left off from. Apart from their stars in Smith, Cronk, Slater and Hoffman, Melbourne’s usual 17 week to week includes names like Mahe Fonua, Young Tonumapeai, Tohu Harris, Mitch Garbutt, Ben Hampton, Kenny Bromwich who are all under the age of 23 and are yet to notch up 20 NRL games or 100 hames between them. These young footballers are still finding their feet, their confidence and where they fit in this Melbourne Storm team and structure. It will take some time until they feel comfortable in their own skin, know their role and what is expected of them. Patience will certainly be a virtue.

The uncharacteristic defence. Eight weeks into the Telstra Premiership, Melbourne are currently ranked 15th in defence. In other words, they are the second worst defensive team in the competition. Yes, you read that right. As mentioned, the Storm were synonymous with the term ‘defence’, many labelling them the innovators of the wrestle which changed the way the game was played for almost a decade. Enter season 2014. New rules, new interpretations has virtually seen the wrestle in the ruck extinct, something that the Storm are definitely struggling with and having trouble adapting. The ruck has been the quickest it has been in a very long time and perhaps old habits are dying hard at Melbourne. But what is even more concerning is the uncharacteristic missed tackles; allowing opposition players to stand in tackles, not wrapping up the ball carrier, allowing them to offload and cause havoc for the Storm’s defensive line. The Storm’s edges are also being tested through their inexperience being caught out and struggling to adhere to their defensive structures. An old cliché that is often used in the game is that “you build your attack off your defence”. If you buy into that philosophy, it is no surprise to see Melbourne struggling.

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(Photo courtesy of http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Cooper+Cronk/Storm+v+Warriors/RW4toH3y0SE)


Too much reliance upon Cooper Cronk
. It is no secret that the Storm were bitterly disappointed to lose English international and five-eighth Gareth Widdop. A tremendous ball runner who formed a formidable halves partnership with the reigning Dally M Medallist Cronk. Widdop complemented Cronk massively. Cronk, who is quite robotic when executing a game plan and organising his team’s attack, allowed Widdop to do what he does best: run the ball. In times of pressure, he also had the capacity to take pressure off Cronk, demanding the ball and running the show on the Storm’s left edge. Since his departure, the onus has fallen on youngster Ben Hampton. Hampton is an exciting halves prospect, although has yet to find his voice as a play maker which results in Cronk shouldering all of the responsibility for Melbourne’s attacking sequences. Cronk is handling the ball more than he has done in his career and it is a direct result of not having an experienced pivot who can help Cronk with the playmaking duties. Whilst the Storm covered their bases in the off season signing QLD Cup player of the year in Cody Walker, former Canterbury utilities Joel Romelo and Ben Roberts, all five-eighth options, yet certainly none are replacement for the enigmatic Gareth Widdop. Melbourne requires stability in the halves. Whether it is Hampton or Roberts, coach Bellamy needs to settle on a stable halves pairing and stick with it.

New Football Operations staff. The long term Melbourne Storm strength and conditioning coaches have moved on. At the Storm for 10 years, many believed these men were responsible for making the hardened warriors the Storm players had become. Notoriously known as having the hardest off seasons in the NRL, the Storm’s fitness and work ethic has never been questioned. Until now. Head strength and conditioning coach Alex Corvo, the man behind the Storm’s relentless fitness regime cut ties with the Club at the end of 2013. So did his partner in crime Adrian Jiminez with the Storm wanting to go in a different direction. One of the reasons Melbourne has been so consistent over the past decade is because of the consistency in their training. There’s that word again. Consistency. The application of conditioning, sport science and fitness methodology behind it never wavered, never waned. It was hard and uncompromising, which pushed players beyond their limits, yet the rewards were there to see over a 10 year period. Perhaps this is why the Storm’s apparent ‘mental toughness’ is being questioned by their Captain Cameron Smith? Losing assistant coaches in David Kidwell and Kevin Walters is also taking its toll. Kidwell, known as a great, aggressive defender in his day, brought a steel edge to the Storm’s defensive capabilities. Walters, one of rugby league’s greatest attacking minds and ball players, was instrumental in much of Melbourne’s attacking sequences. Their replacements; Adam O’Brien and Justin Morgan have only been in their respective roles for a short period of time. So while it might be a transitional phase taking place, at present, the changes seem to be having an adverse effect.

Whether it’s one of these factors, or all of them, it is definitely hurting the Melbourne Storm. The Storm have always prided themselves of getting off to a great successful start to each season, knowing that when the representative season comes around including a Test match and the hectic State Of Origin period, it can tend to hurt Melbourne. With only winning four of their opening eight games, history shows that the Storm will struggle during and post Origin, which will raise serious questions about their chances of making the finals. Add to the fact they only have two home games in their final six fixtures for 2014, could this be the first time in a decade (not including the 2010 season) that the consistent Storm will miss the finals?

Write Melbourne off at your own peril. The Storm love nothing more than being the underdog. One of Storm coach Craig Bellamy’s greatest strengths in his coaching repertoire is to bring out the siege mentality, the ‘us against them’, ‘it’s us against the world’. ‘Everyone has written us off’ etc etc. Bellamy knows how to motivate; to lift; to inspire is team. He knows what makes them tick. He knows how to tap into their psyche to get the desired response. If there is one thing the Melbourne Storm do better than any other club, it’s responding to and overcoming adversity. Season 2010 was a crippling year for the Storm, yet they managed to come out on the other side, stronger, more resilient than one could of envisaged. The predicament currently facing Melbourne is no doubt, a challenge – a challenge of a high magnitude, where their premiership credentials and integrity is being questioned for the first time in a decade by almost everyone. It is going to test their mental, physical, emotional strength and resolve. One can surely bet, this is a challenge that players like Smith, Slater and Cronk and their veteran mentor Bellamy live for.

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Written by @DWATSONHAYES

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Obstruction? Time to un-complicate the convoluted farce Rugby League has become #NRL #RugbyLeague

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We have often heard great coaches over the years like the late Jack Gibson and Wayne Bennett mutter the phrase “Rugby League is a simple game”. And so it is. A sport played between two teams, with the aim to score more points than your opposition and possessing the ability to defend points from being conceded. Sounds pretty simple right? Enter the Game’s 106th year of existence, and Rugby League has become anything but simple.

The game that was built of attrition, stamina, endurance and drew comparisons to that of a gladiatorial contest has morphed into a complex beast, which is now being tarnished by complex changes, rules and continued alterations to the laws of the game is hurting the product, bewildering coaches, players, officials and media commentators and making fans and members disgruntled at the nonsensical and irrational decisions that the officials throw up week in week out.

These constant and continued rule changes and complicating what Gibson, Bennett and many others refer to as a ‘simple game’. Modern day and for the past few years, the game has seen a shift in the style of play; the evolution of structure, systems and shape most teams play with, which include block plays, second man diversions in order to try to fool an opposition defensive line, to catch a misread or a lazy defender in order to score points.

As a result, the law makers of our game, decided to come up with a concept that is now a consistent issue that no one seems to have a clear understanding of, with every so called expert and official, be it a referee, touch judge or video referee having their own interpretation of what is and what is not an obstruction. The Game last year revised the obstruction rule to apparently, take out the ‘grey’ area of the rule, making it less complicated and easier to understand.

The simplest explanation of what an actual obstruction is in Rugby League, is a player who acts as a block runner or old school decoy who shapes to get the ball but does not, who runs into the defensive line, makes contact with a opposition defender, either taking the player out or impeding the defender from making a tackle in proximity of the ball runner. Sort of sounds pretty straightforward right? Wrong. This rule is causing more damage, more heartache and more hairlines to recede than one would tend to think.

In Round 7 alone, we have seen 2 controversial obstruction calls referred to the video ref. The first was in the Canterbury-Bankstown and South Sydney fixture, where a player who shapes as a block runner runs through a hole but does not making any contact whatsoever with an opposition defenders and the second, was in the Manly-Nth QLD Game where Cowboys hooker Ray Thompson was impeded by a Sea Eagles block runner, which inhibited Thompson a fair and equitable opportunity to make a tackle on the eventual try scorer, Jamie Buhrer.

As to the rule book, the first example was not an obstruction, but was deemed to be one; whilst the second was a blatant obstruction, yet was given the green light for a Manly try, which inevitably cost Nth QLD the Game. And let’s not even mention the tunnel ball from Manly Fullback Brett Stewart that went forward through his legs resulting in Manly receiving another set of six tackles, in the lead up to the controversial try that robbed the Cowboys of not only momentum but inevitably victory. Nth QLD captain summed it up best when asked post game what his thoughts were on the controversial decisions stating “When you’re wearing a Cowboys jersey, you get used to it” referring to the third incident in three years that deprived Nth QLD of victory; the two previous occurrences happening in a Finals game in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

The incompetence of the officialdom is deplorable, embarrassing and down right pathetic of a billion dollar game, that aspires to be a market leader in sport and entertainment. Not only is the obstruction rule crippling and hurting sides and the product, so is the professionalism of the current crop of referees. It seems that with all the technology available they continue to keep getting it wrong. Players and Coaches can forgive human error.

But with all the technology at the disposal to the referees, through multiple replays from various camera angles, the officials have managed to complicate the process through video referees told to look for conclusive evidence when a decision from the on ground referees send a try upstairs for review. Some of the decisions from the video officials have been ludicrous. It seems that common sense in majority of the decisions handed down is lacking, be it through an obstruction call, or through a player scoring a try where common sense suggests that some part of the steeden has touched the ground, yet due to the on field referees having no confidence in backing themselves, and because they have not visibly seen the ball touch the ground, regardless if no one is under the player or not, a video ref will adjudicate as such, producing a blunder of a decision which leaves players, coaches, officials and fans scratching their heads.

Examples of such malapropisms included a denied effort by Manly’s Steve Matai last season who crossed the line with a South Sydney defender on him, where on visual sight and shot, suggests that he got some part of the ball down, yet because there was no accurate vision of the ball touching the ground in the in goal area, they denied Matai which should have been a try. A more recent incident occurred in the Round 7 Canberra-Melbourne contest, where Storm winger Sisa Waqa crossed for a try in the corner only to be denied by the video ref, due to the on field referee and touch judge not sure of he got the ball down when diving for the corner.

Multiple replays suggest that Waqa not only got the ball down on the line, but the ball also touched the ground before he slid into touch in the in goal area. Common sense suggested that was the case, but yet again, ‘No Try’ was the decision thanks to the on field referee’s opinion was that it was a no try and the video referee not finding any supposed conclusive evidence to overturn the on field referees initial decision. It left the Channel 9 commentary team stunned, with immortals in Wally Lewis and Andrew Johns baffled and perplexed at the decision.

The Storm have now being involved in 3 consecutive games which has resulted in contrevsial decisions. The first against the Gold Coast a fortnight earlier, which saw Titans prop Luke Douglas lose the ball in a tackle through a lazy and loose carry, where the referee assumed that the spilt ball was a result of a strip, which gifted the Gold Coast victory. Replays showed that it was as such, as loose carry. Where was the video ref in all of this? Surely they technology could have been used to overturn the decision prior to Greg Bird taking the penalty goal. Again, common sense was avoided and unfair decision cost Melbourne victory.

Last week, a game riddled wit controversy. A forward pass was called, which was in fact not forward, resulting in Referees Boss Tony Archer issuing an apology. An offside call went unnoticed which led to a Trent Merrin try, and a simultaneous play the ball with the final siren resulting in Melbourne stealing victory from St.George Illawarra. Again, an apology was issued. But when will the NRL understand that a simple “we’re sorry, we got it wrong” will not suffice. It is detrimental to these clubs on an array of fronts.

Such decisions such as the no try no Waqa, the allowed try to Buhrer, the denied try to Bulldogs winger Corey Thompson are game changers. Such a decision can halt an attacking teams momentum and confidence, whilst shifting it to the opposition. Many will state and claim that such decisions should not matter, as teams have 80 minutes to win a game of football and surely had other opportunities and instances during the course of the game to win. But for anyone who has ever laced on a boot at any level, would be able to understand that one decision is enough to change to the complexity of the game, providing benefit to a team. Momentum shifts provide energy, drive and much needed ‘oomph’ for a team that was on the back foot at one point or for majority of the contest.

Waqa’s disallowed try would have put Melbourne potentially 10 points in front with 7 minutes remaining, which would have seen the Storm close out the game and ensure victory. But they never got that opportunity and it allowed the Raiders back into the game and consequently shifted momentum their way, allowing them to secure victory. Just as the Buhrer try for the Sea Eagles broke the hearts and spirits of the Cowboys, providing Manly with the upper hand of momentum.

The poor officialdom that is hindering Rugby League and its contests is eliminating the fairness out of the product. Instead of games being decided by the players, it is being decided by poor referring decisions. As a result, fans have become frustrated and disillusioned with the continued pitiful decisions, which are ruining the game, costing their team a shot at victory. Is it any wonder why crowds are continuing to dwindle? Supporters have had a royal gutful of the incompetence and are voting with their feet and their remote controls, with not only crowd attendances down, television ratings are also falling. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to work out or come to the conclusion that people are losing interest in the game because of the poor unprofessionalism that is the current standard of referring.

And what about the impact it has on clubs? Who’s to say that both the Cowboys, Storm and the after their controversial loss to Wests Tigers, the Eels who were on the receiving end of poor decisions, might now miss the Finals as a direct consequence? Those 2 points might mean the difference between a top 4 spot, top 8 or missing the finals by 2 points. Hypotheticals, yes, but it is possible. Missing the finals can cost a club lucrative financial windfall. It may also have other negative ramifications such as not being able to attract commercial opportunities because a lack of success; not secure or increase membership because fans have become disenchanted with the Game; poor and disappointing crowd figures, all potential facets and channels of revenue can ultimately be affected which can severely affect a club’s sustainability and viability.

Everyone in the game seemed to have laughed at the expense of Manly coach’s Geoff Toovey’s infamous blow up in last year’s press conference where he proclaimed that “there needs to be an investigation, someone needs to be accountable for this” referring to the shocking decision not to award the Steve Matai try amongst other eyebrow raising decisions throughout the course of the contest. 12 months on, the Game is not laughing now. Maybe Toovey had a point. The word accountable was again used by Melbourne mentor Craig Bellamy after Sundays controversial loss who has called upon the game to act in light of the continuous referring errors. Whilst Eels Coach Brad Arthur stated that he doesn’t know “what an obstruction is anymore”, as Parramatta Captain Jarryd Hayne called for consistency.

The NRL has a mighty task on its hands to rectify the current predicament or atrocious officialdom. What’s the answer? What’s the solution? What’s the remedy? Perhaps they should start at the very beginning and work their way from there; that being that remembering the generalisation muttered by legendary coaches and players that Rugby League is a ‘simple game’. Do away with the intricate and distorted laws, employ and implement what all Rugby League players, coaches, administrators and fans long to see make an immediate return, that being some much needed ‘common sense’ back into the game.

A region neglected. How the west was lost #NRL #ItsMyLife #2560 #RugbyLeague

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6,500 fans turned out to watch Wests Tigers Vs. Nth QLD at Campbelltown Sports Stadium on Saturday night 12th April. 6,456 to be exact. The supposed heartland; the so-called long-term future of the Joint Venture entity. The highflying Tigers are currently sitting second on the Telstra Premiership ladder, having won 4 of their first 6 Premiership games in 2014. All of those wins, Wests have displayed a confident, free flowing attack and a no fear approach in defence which has troubled their opposition providing great entertainment for their fans.

But where are their fans? A week ago, Wests Tigers saw 16,000 plus fans cram into Leichhardt Oval to watch their team comprehensively defeat Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles. Wests have been the underdogs in all of their games this year and keep coming up trumps, defeating Manly, Souths, Gold Coast and Nth QLD. Success usually brings the fans out of the woodwork, as they dust off their Black, White and Gold and attend games, especially fixtures at their traditional home grounds of Leichhardt and Campbelltown.

Although, Wests officials were scratching their heads at where the other 10,000 plus fans were only 6 days earlier. Something just is not adding up. A winning team, sitting high in the Top 4, star players and young guns in amazing form, taking on Rugby League royalty in names like Jonathan Thurston and rep stars in Scott, Tamou, Sims, Tate etc. One would assume Campbelltown should have been packed to the rafters, but on the contrary, it was a ghost town.

The Campbelltown-Macarthur municipality is one of the largest growth regions in NSW, housing a population of approximately 500,000, with more growth projected. A boundary that starts at Liverpool and stretches all the way to the Southern Highlands. This is Wests Tigers backyard. Not only do they have such a vast region at its disposal, they have a junior nursery that all NRL Clubs would kill for. Yet, 6456 fans rocked up at Campbelltown to watch their NRL representative side.

Why? Well let’s address the obvious. Not everyone who lives in the South-West of Sydney is a Wests Tigers fan. Many would already have a pre-existing club they barrack for. Wests Tigers have known this fact for 15 years, and their target has been the next generation, attracting and appealing to the kids, the juniors, the youth to become fans and members moving forward. So how do you grow support for the Wests Tigers brand and club?

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Then there’s the segmentation in membership. 15 years on, and there is still ill feeling between the factional supporter bases of Balmain and Western Suburbs. Whilst the inhabitants, populations and overall demography of the inner west of Sydney, specifically centred around the Balmain region no longer support Rugby League, many old Tigers fans who live west of Homebush still make the nostalgic trip to Leichhardt, yet refuse to travel down the Hume Hwy and M5 to Campbelltown, due to the attitude that its “not our home ground”.

Tigers officials seem to think they are doing enough, but it is crystal clear they are not. Be it through a lack of effort, engagement or just resting on their laurels, thinking success will bring the fans back. Sadly, it won’t and the proof is in the pudding. Since 2011, crowds have been on the steady decline.. The community along with old Western Suburbs fans have been disenfranchised through a severe lack of equality along with an extreme lack of presence in the area, coupled by a strong dominance of Black and Gold across playing strip, merchandise, marketing and promotion of the club, link and association by media which often associates Wests Tigers as Balmain.

Add to the fact the Joint Venture Club is located some 60km away from the Macarthur region and only fronts up 4 times a year. Ask any resident if they truly believe Wests Tigers is really representing the area and its community. Wests CEO Grant Mayer made some stunning comments after the Tigers thrilling victory against the Cowboys, stating that fans and the community of the Macarthur region have one final throw of the dice to turn up otherwise Wests Tigers will play even less games at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.

A severe threat such as that which is an aggressive approach is not the right way to go about winning back a disgruntled area and fan base. It is a poor approach and a reactive attitude from a management perspective. Yes, it is disappointing. Yes it hurts the club financially, who made a loss due to the poor patronage that walked through the turnstiles. But what would have been a better a approach would have been Mayer coming out and saying “we are going to work harder to engage the fans, the community and show them we are committed to calling the South-West our home”.

Turning up 4 times a year and having a merchandise outlet in the region is not going to do the trick. Neither will the odd coaching clinic or player appearance. The region wants its own team. Its own representative team that is playing for its area. And it deserves it. The demographics; the logistics; the infrastructure all support this reasoning. Not a club that turns up casually several times a year and demands people turn up to watch them go round. Wests Tigers are either extremely naïve or are just blatantly ignorant.

I respect that it is difficult to balance commercial incentives and being present and visible in your region. But Penrith and Parramatta, two other Western Sydney based teams have managed to make it work. Can you imagine if the Panthers abandoned Penrith, or the Eels leaving Parramatta, only to turn up 3-4 times a season? What do you think their respective communities and locals would be thinking and saying?

Further to Mayer’s comments, the Tigers figurehead stated that the club would be offering $10 dollar tickets to their next home game at Campbelltown; a fixture that is being promoted as a 15 year anniversary game, which saw Wests take on Brisbane back in 2000, the first game as a Joint Venture Club. Do Wests Tigers really think throwing cheap tickets at the area again, will be enough to entice them to turn up? The Tigers are taking the community as over zealous forgiving, gullible fools.

The club has neglected the area for 15 years. That is the crux of this entire issue. Wests Tigers now face a momentous task of trying to win their community of the South-West of Sydney back. But if last night’s attendance was anything to go by, I fear no amount of games; no amount of player appearances, clinics and other initiatives in the area will make a dent in the hearts and minds of the region. Enough is enough. They have made up their mind. Years and years of being treated with utter contempt has taken its toll. It has fermented to the surface and it is evident to see.

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(Photo courtesy of http://wa1.www.weststigers.com.au/content/tigers/club/news/2014/04/12/nrl_round_6_match_report/_jcr_content/par/image.img.jpg/1397302596465.jpg)

Will Wests Tigers, their CEO and Board roll their sleeves up and work hard with the community to try and bring them back to the club? Or will this now provide ammunition for the club to take more games to ANZ Stadium in return for a positive, guaranteed financial return? From a commercial viewpoint, the Joint Venture would prefer to be making money and generating revenue. The Joint Venture’s financial problems are well documented and have been made aware to all. They have been bailed out by the NRL due to the Balmain Tigers being unable to financially contribute to the Joint Venture for a number of years. So the easy option would be to just reallocate Campbelltown fixtures to Sydney Olympic Park.

It is a sad and sorry state of affairs, but the only fingers that should be being pointed in regards to blame is wholly and solely at Wests Tigers. They have alienated old Magpie supporters through the perceived lack of inequality in an entity the Western Suburbs Group co-own; and now their own community of the South-West has had a proverbial gutful of their idea of commitment to the region. Everyone in Rugby League acknowledges the importance the South-West of Sydney has to the game. Hence why it was highlighted as a vital key in securing the corridor as Rugby League territory way back in the 1980s.

Western Suburbs Magpies relocated from Lidcombe to Leumeah way back in 1987 to ensure their future in Rugby League. The commercial realities bit the Magpies hard in 1999 who sought to extend their life in the NRL as a Joint Venture. One of the major reasons why Western Suburbs explored the avenue of a Joint Venture was mainly due to not wanting to see the Macarthur area lost; without a strong Rugby League presence and to ensure the region continued to have ‘their own team’. 15 years on, the Campbelltown-Macarthur area has anything but their own representative NRL team to call their own. Instead they get an inner city based franchise that strolls down the M5 four times a year claiming they are the side, the team, the club that epitomies Rugby League in the South-West of Sydney. Please.

But don’t tell Wests Tigers that. They are apparently ‘doing enough’. If the Tigers won’t service and show the Macarthur region the commitment it solemnly deserves, perhaps its time to give it to an NRL club that will. Neglect your region and it will respond in kind. Rather than a story explaining “How the west was won” this is more along the lines of a tragedy of “How the west was lost”

False ‘departed’ link, complete denial and ignorant association harming progression of Clubs #NRL #RugbyLeague #RedV #ItsMyLife

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Morris(Photo courtesy of http://images.smh.com.au/2014/03/27/5300140/1395914531616.jpg-620×349.jpg)

On the back of Dragons winger Brett Morris’ acrobatic like display to score a sensational try against the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks last week, it prompted former St.George Dragons winger Ricky Walford to make a bold yet unusual statement that Brett Morris will end up being the Dragons greatest winger in ‘their’ history; Walford saying that Morris will be seen as a better wingman than Johnny King who featured throughout the famous 11 St George Dragons Premierships; better than Brett’s Father, affectionately known as Slippery Morris due to his elusiveness; better than Walford himself who was not such a bad finisher who featured in St George ‘s Grand Final appearances in 1992 and 1993 and a host of other wingers that have pulled on the famous Red V.

However, what Walford and most media journalists, commentators ignore is the fact that Brett Morris cannot be considered the greatest winger that St. George has ever produced. How so? Well its quite simple. Brett Morris has never played for St. George. The Dragons? Yes, but of the St.George Illawarra variety. Aren’t they just one of the same I hear many asking? Well, no, no they are not. Allow me to distinguish how they are total separate football clubs and entities. In 1921, the NSWRL (now known as the NRL) granted admission to another Sydney club into its Premiership competition. Western Suburbs Magpies, who held this region as apart of their district at the time, were forced by the League to give up the boundary to allow the St George District Rugby League Football Club to partake in the game going forward. The Dragons as they were affectionately known, named after St. George the Dragon slayer, would go on to become one of Australian Rugby League’s most successful clubs, recording 15 Premierships, 11 of those in a row.

St George produced many a star, many an international who became household names in Rugby League who to this day, are still spoken about with high regard, esteem and ultimate respect. In 1998, the Dragons like most Sydney based NRL Clubs faced an uncertain future with the game’s plan to rationalise the competition and turn into a fully fledged ‘National Rugby League’ competition (we’re still waiting….) They sought out a Joint Venture partner, who they could extend their life span going forward into the new era of professionalism which Rugby League was headed for. They found a prospective partner in the Illawarra Steelers, with both clubs sharing great synergy. The Dragons had forever called upon many of its players from the South Coast of Sydney since its inception. The great and immortal Graeme ‘Changa’ Langlands, just one of many famous St George Legends who hailed from the Illawarra region. The other bonus is that both clubs shared the same colour scheme, with both the Dragons and the Steelers wearing Red and White, (or Scarlet if we want to be that attentive and particular)

The St George Dragons would end their life span as a Football Club at the top tier at the end of 1998. Both the Dragons and the Steelers would now be co-owners of a new entity, a new football club called the St.George Illawarra Dragons who would take to the field for the first time in 1999 and have the record as being the first ever Joint Venture Club in Australian Rugby League history. So as a new club is formed; so to is a new beginning, a new history, a new culture and new records. St. George Illawarra has been established 16 years. 16 NRL seasons, which has seen the Joint Venture club feature in plenty of Finals campaigns, two Grand Finals; has one Premiership to its name and has produced many a representative player for both State and Country.

Yet, for some reason many in the Rugby League community, be it fans, administrators, journalists, media commentators still see St.George Illawarra as St George; a mere extension of St.George Dragons. That they are the same St.George that was established in 1921. Which is not only completely wrong, but also highly disrespectful for their Joint Venture partners, the Illawarra Steelers. The St George Illawarra Dragons, whilst they may bear the name of St George and the Dragons identity, wear the famous Red V and play “when the saints, go marching in” after a victory, like one of its Joint Venture shareholders in St. George, the mere fact and point of the matter that no matter how much old St George Dragons fans, and Rugby League folk from yesteryear want it to be, St. George Illawarra is not St. George. Not now, not ever.

The St.George Dragons records and history ended at the end of the 1998 season. Just like the Illawarra Steelers did. How hard is this to understand accept? (obviously harder than one tends to think) The ignorance was bliss once again after St George Illawarra won its FIRST premiership in 2010, with many saying, it was the club’s first Grand Final win since 1979. Really? St George Illawarra weren’t established in 1979. 1999 yes, but not 1979. Or when Ben Hornby apparently became the most capped St. George player in history 2 seasons ago. Umm, but he never played for St George Dragons. He only ever represented St George Illawarra Dragons. So someone get in touch with Norm Provan and let him know he still holds the record for the MOST games for the St. George Dragons. The conceited and unconscious association and mentality that St.George Illawarra is still St.George is not only impertinent, ignorant and highly annoying, it is misleading and fabricating too many Rugby League fans, and the next generation St.George Illawarra supporters of their club’s true and ethical history, rather than a false one.

A comparison would be to say that Balmain is virtually still Wests Tigers. That Robbie Farah is the greatest Tigers Hooker, better than Balmain legend Ben Elias; or that James Tedesco is the best Tigers fullback since ‘Golden Boots’ Keith Barnes or Garry Jack. Whilst there would be some ignorant fools out there that would agree with such claims and statements, the fact again remains, that Robbie Farah has never played for Balmain. Neither has young Tedesco. Both however have played for WESTS Tigers, a Joint Venture club established in 2000 between Foundation Clubs Balmain and Western Suburbs, who celebrate its 15-year anniversary that it has been participating in the NRL.

The Game and the media distort the view, and perception of these facts, which in essence is damaging. Damaging in the sense that they are virtually alienating fans and members, which is detrimental to the game and individual club’s growth. How many fans has St George Illawarra lost who were former Steelers supporters? Or how many Magpie fans have vanished from the game, as both Joint Venture clubs are still made out to be that they are just an existing continuation and extension of both the St George Dragons and Balmain Tigers.

Whilst both Joint Ventures entities are vehicles for all 4 clubs to showcase their identity and preserve their brand in a new era, St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers respectively are and have been writing their own individual history since they were born into existence in 1999 and 2000 respectively. It’s time the Game’s hierarchy and media alike acknowledge this and stay true to the facts, rather than the pitiable, misleading reporting and journalism that we as stakeholders of Rugby League have sadly been accustomed too for far too long.

So will Brett Morris go down in history as the Dragons greatest ever winger? I’m sure he will definitely come into contention. But considering St. George Illawarra is only a 16 year old football club, he certainly has a sizeable lead on Rod Wishart, Amos Roberts, Jason Nightingale, Wendall Sailor and Nathan Blacklock, just to name a few of the Joint Venture’s former wingers who have turned out for the Dragons since 1999, not 1921, as some may tend to think.