Duplicity; A slap on the wrist is a slap in the face to others who have felt the full wrath of ASADA and WADA suspensions #NRL #RugbyLeague #ASADA #Sharks #UpUpCronulla

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There are several words that the Rugby League world and community is sick to death of and would love to never hear again. They are ASADA, WADA and the Cronulla Sharks. The 18 month supplement saga came to a head late last week and from what we have been told, this is finally the end with both NRL CEO Dave Smith and ASADA boss Ben McDevitt believing that WADA is satisfied with ASADA’s findings, it’s handling of the investigation and the punishments that have been handed down to the 17 Cronulla players that were embroiled in the drama which took place in 2011.

So where too now for the Sharks? Do they just put this behind them, sweep it under the rug and forget it ever happened? If only if it was that easy. The damage done to the Cronulla-Sutherland Football Club’s brand and image is almost permanent and irreparable. They’ve lost creditability, commercial opportunities, sponsors and members. Whilst they will always have their loyal band of fans who will stick with the club through thick and thin, attracting new fans and members to the Shire based club will be mission impossible for even the greatest marketers in the world.

And let’s not forget about the damage done to ASADA. Australia’s national anti-doping governing body’s reputation. The length and duration of its investigation became laughable. The only thing to top the long, drawn out process was it’s findings and the inevitable punishments, which saw all current players receive a 3 month ban, resulting in players still playing in the National Rugby League missing a total of 3 games. ASADA has justified its punishment saying that penalties were backdated to November 2013, as that is when ASADA originally concluded its investigation.

But let’s take a step back for a minute and assess the almighty hypocrisy and inconsistency in ASADA’s penalties that they issued to the Cronulla players that have now been convicted of willingly or unwillingly taking banned substances that under the letter of the law enhanced a players performance. Previous indiscretions by Rugby League players were much more severe. Ask the likes of Wayne Richards, Clinton Schifoske, Rodney Howe, Robbie O’Davis, Matt Spence, Kevin McGuinness, Craig Field, Wendell Sailor who either tested positive to performance enhancing or recreational drugs. All players were suspended between 22 weeks to 2 years depending on the circumstances.

Yet the Sharks players receive 3 games? How farcical. Every athlete across every sport, both nationally and internationally, is screaming blue murder. It is said that the extraordinary short-term ban is a compromise for the way ASADA handled the entire investigation. Does this government agency realise that is has become the laughing stock by all national sports, officials and athletes? Sunday meat tray raffles at a local RSL club are more organised and managed than this supposed esteemed professional association.

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We now know the NRL has banned any convicted Sharks player from attending any Rugby League awards evening, including the Dally M’s. And rightly so. Roosters and NSW legend Brad Fittler was quite vocal saying that he did not think Paul Gallen should receive the award that was named after Fittler, the Brad Fittler Medal, which goes to the best NSW Rugby League player due to now being found guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs. Unwittingly or not, Nathan Hindmarsh, the former Parramatta Eels stalwart said that during his career and even now, ASADA had always told the players at the Eels and every NRL club, that if any player tests positive for a banned substance, “you’re gone for two years….saying it was in your mum’s cooking won’t hold up. Every player has the responsibility to know what they’re putting into their body”.

Let’s not forget about Sandor Earl. The former Roosters, Panthers and Raiders star is facing 4 years out of the game and sport at large for virtually the same offence as the Sharks players ‘pleaded’ guilty for, unwittingly taking or being subjected to banned substances on the advice of a sport scientist who was a consultant at the time during his stint at Penrith. The only difference, between the Cronulla player and Earl is that Earl was charged with trafficking the banned substances (by trafficking, it related to Earl transporting the peptides from a clinic to a doctor who administered the substances to what he was led to believe was completely legal to aid in his recovery from shoulder reconstructive surgery) So one individual receives 4 years? Whilst the others receive 3 months? Where is the consistency? The transparency? The fairness?

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What’s even more shambolic is that the person who had knowledge and allowed all this to happen, Shane Flanagan, will waltz back into work at Remondis Stadium next month, planning for Season 2015. Flanagan was suspended for a year, which was later reduced to 9 months if he abided by the NRL’s instruction of undertaking specific courses relating to governance. But wait, there’s MORE! This unbelievable move virtually sums up the Cronulla Sharks Football club in a nutshell. The Board and new management of the Sharks club offered Flanagan a brand new 3 year contract extension after he had been found guilty and suspended by the NRL after failing in his duty of care to his players.

No other organisation in not only sport, but any industry, could possibly reward an individual knowing what Flanagan has been found guilty of. In a word, it’s ‘unprofessional’. It seems to be the creed and mantra that the Cronulla-Sutherland District Rugby League Football Club lives by. How Flanagan can hold onto his position without Cronulla, the NRL or even ASADA stepping in and terminating his services has many perplexed and dumbfounded.

We have learnt this week that the Cronulla club is once again now in search of a major sponsor, after ‘Labour Health’ has informed the Sharks it will not be continuing its commercial agreement in the same capacity as it stands at the moment. Not to mention, there is also word that several players are considering suing the Sharks due to the whole supplement saga. Their respective legal representatives deem that they do have a case, and a strong one at that. Throw in the $1 million dollar fine issued by the NRL and it’s own expenses paid for its own internal investigation, the Sharks are on Struggle Street financially.

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As much as Sharks officials and its experienced Chief Executive in Steve Noyce want to put all this drama to bed and move forward, moving forward may be more difficult than it seems. Sponsorship will be harder than ever to procure and source amidst the drama and catastrophic damage sustained to its brand name. If Cronulla really do want to move on, move forward then it must start a fresh. Whilst not caught up in a drugs saga, Canterbury-Bansktown Bulldogs and the Melbourne Storm are prime examples of two professional organisations being able to come out stronger when faced with their own separate, individual adversity.

Both the Bulldogs and Storm faced well-documented salary cap breaches in 2002 and 2010 respectively. How did both clubs recover and re-establish their creditability? They took a broom through the joint and rid themselves of the culprits and those responsible. That should always be the first point of call. Before any re-build can truly take place, an organisation or a football club must part ways with the individuals responsible for staining the club, its reputation and image.

The Sharks if they are serious about moving forward as they claim to be, must take multiple leafs out of both Canterbury and Melbourne’s book. And that starts with tearing up Coach Shane Flanagan’s newly inked 3 year deal and helping him pack his bags, so too, the staff that also had knowledge of what transpired in 2011. The former Sharks board stood down former staff of the sharks including football manager, club doctor and the head trainer, only for a new Sharks board to re-instate them. A case of two steps forward, 3 steps back.

Cronulla failed to learn from this instance much to its detriment. It now has the opportunity to make a mends; wipe the slate clean and restore creditability and pride to its name and its 47 year old history. Otherwise, it will only have those responsible for the running of the club namely in its board, chairman and CEO to blame and will suffer the consequences. Those ramifications will be a severe lack of likeability as a brand, resulting in sponsors and companies avoiding the Sharks like the plague, investing their hard earned else where in what already is a saturated Sydney sporting market. A titanic like struggle to not only retain its members, but to attract new members to the club, hence resulting in gate receipts dwindling with crowds attendances shrinking.

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So whilst it’s famous club song may echo the phrase “Up, Up Cronulla”, it will never climb to the heights of its competitors from its dark and lonely place of rock bottom until it starts to take itself seriously as an entity. It’s time those who are the current custodians of the Sharks have a long hard look in the corporate, professional, business like mirror and make some hard, tough, necessary decisions for the long term betterment of the boys in the ‘Black, White and Blue’

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A kennel that desperately needs pedigree tenants to deliver Premiership success #NRL #RugbyLeague #proudtobeabulldog

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To win a Premiership, you often here the experts rattle off a few things you need to go your way. The first is a healthy roster; having your best 17 available for most of the season and especially going into the business end of the year and throughout the finals. The other is luck, which often refers to the bounce of the steeden bouncing your way more often than not. Let’s not discount the importance of momentum either. Winning, just like losing becomes a habit. Most premiership winners have taken out the competition on the back of a winning run leading up to holding the Premiership Cup aloft.

Since 1908, one of Rugby League’s oldest clichés has been and still resonates today is that ‘forwards win matches’. I do not think for one minute this has changed. Rugby League is a simple game. Dominate possession, dominate field position and more often than not, you’ll come away with the biscuits. Although, one element that often does not get enough attention and emphasis is the importance of a quality half. Take the Canterbury and Parramatta sides of the 1980’s. Both teams blessed with not just one, but two quality halves. The Bulldogs with Mortimer and Lamb. The Eels with Kenny and Sterling.

The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have a pack that is unrivalled amongst its competitors. A team that has the ability to make 70-80 yards every set of six, getting the Bulldogs into the opposition’s red zone setting them up for the perfect opportunity to post points. Just like the 1980’s where the Warren Ryan coached Canterbury side was touted the ‘Dogs of war’ who possessed a big, menacing, uncompromising cluster of forwards. Whilst it has held them in good stead for most of the 2014 season, there remains an elephant in the room. The clear lack of a quality playermaker.

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Since 2012, Canterbury’s game plan and style of play has not evolved or progressed. Their recipe for success involved playing to their strengths; that being their forward pack. Hasler transformed his props and back rowers into ball players. After establishing a foundation and laying a platform, the Canterbury forwards would swap their position descriptions and become the side’s resident ball players. Taking to the line, producing short balls off the hip; tip on after tip on, second man plays, tram line to tram line with Ben Barba being the polish on the end of their shifting plays and sets.

2014, not much has changed, except the polish is no longer there. Barba the Bulldog left the kennel for the stable at the Broncos. Hasler has struggled to fill the void, hoping a makeshift miracle in Sam Perrett would be able to replicate Barba’s heroics that he provided for Canterbury. But sadly, it has not worked nor paid off and what has been exposed is the clear lack of quality player makers. But Hodkinson and Reynolds are winning Origin halves right? Let’s dispel the myth. The Bulldogs halves were accidental hero’s. If Mitchell Pearce does not have an off field indiscretion, both players do not pull on a sky blue jersey. Throw in the fact, they were playing behind some of the best forwards in the world and one freakish talent in Jarryd Hayne made everyone look outstanding.

Every Premiership winner in 106 years of Rugby League has had one common element. A quality half. A dominant playmaker that possess ball playing, can lead and direct a team around the field with exceptional leadership, an astute kicking game which is used as an attacking weapon. If you cast your eye over the top 8 at the moment, the top 5 sides in Souths, Manly, Penrith, Easts, Melbourne all have quality halves. Some are blessed to have quality halves pairing. The Rabbitohs have Reynolds and Keary. Manly have arguably the best pairing with Foran and Cherry-Evans. Penrith have established, experienced leaders in Wallace and Soward. The Roosters, Maloney and Pearce who compliment one another greatly, and the Storm with the Melbourne maestro in Cooper Cronk.

All these sides never have an issue with getting over the white line to post points. Their attack on any given day is evenly matched. A dilemma and a real significant issue Canterbury has and is struggling with. The Bulldogs halves are worlds apart from being able to match it with their rivals. Canterbury cling to a top 8 position by their paws, but risk falling out if they can not win at least 2 of their last remaining 3 games against Wests, Souths and the Gold Coast. The Bulldogs are currently the only team in the top 8 with a negative for and against (points differential). One would automatically assume that this is down to poor defence, but in reality, it is quite the opposite. It is their clear inability to score points and that lies solely with their six and seven.

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Many predicted the Canterbury halves to return to the Bulldogs post Origin with the utmost confidence; to lift to Dogs to another level. Yet, it is yet to show and Canterbury have been on the slide after leading the Premiership only a handful of weeks ago. Hasler has deflected criticism, putting it down to not having “enough respect for the ball” citing poor completion rates as the factor for their decline over the past 6 weeks. Commentators have stated that Canterbury have gone away from their strengths of punching through opposition teams, instead opting to go sideways before being able to get over the advantage lime which has placed a tonne of pressure on themselves, resulting in flat, lethargic, pedestrian, predictable play.

However, the fact remains, the Bulldogs halves have not aimed up and taken ownership of Canterbury’s woes. Whilst Hodkinson has overcome adversity and Reynolds is the ultimate competitor, it is sadly not enough. The Bulldogs playmakers struggle. Whilst Hodkinson and Reynolds are tenacious in defence, they lack the temperament, the patience and the organisational ability to help their outside men cross the try line. The No. 6 and 7 for the Bulldogs are far from fluent with the ball. Set pieces are few and far between, instead watching their many attacking sequences seem more like going off a whim and a prayer, hoping it pays off. Whilst Hasler may have a point about Canterbury’s poor completion rate in recent weeks, he is surely has to be aware of his ineffective halves.

Hasler is one of the game’s premier coaches. One of Rugby League sharpest minds and has proven himself to be an innovator, thinking outside the square to achieve success. He must acknowledge that his Bulldogs team to be complete and a true chance of winning the premiership, requires more then an uncompromising pack of forwards and steely edged defence. Hasler has done his ultimate best to manufacture the polish that was Ben Barba, but Blind Freddy can see, Canterbury still lack potency. Whilst a quality specialist fullback is on Hasler’s wish list, the Bulldogs more need a general. A leader. A half that can direct the team and establishing opportunities, applying pressure on the opposition and providing class last tackle attacking options which Canterbury can capitalise upon.

The Canterbury-Bankstown spine whilst competitive is not premiership material. The Bulldogs like a handful of others have their premiership window wide open and if they do not address their weaknesses sooner rather than later, they may sadly see that premiership window close. Whilst you can never write off a Des Hasler coached team and roster that boasts some of the best forwards in Rugby League, the reality is, they lack the necessary pieces of the puzzle to lift the Premiership Cup aloft in the first weekend of October.

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