Redemption? Brian Waldron deserves nothing of the sort nor the opportunity to atone #NRL #RugbyLeague #purplepride #SportsBiz

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Waldron               (Brian Waldron, the ‘chief rat’ who orchestrated the salary cap rort Photo courtesy of http://www.smh.com.au)

 Like many Storm and Rugby League fans, I was shocked to hear that a Melbourne based sports radio program was interviewing former Richmond, St.Kilda, Melbourne Storm and Melbourne Rebels sports administrator, Brian Waldron. Why does the name ring a bell? Because it is the name of the disgraced Chief Executive Officer who was responsible for one of the biggest and most damaging sporting scandals in Australian Sporting history. Waldron, orchestrated the largest salary cap rort ever seen, which enabled the Melbourne Storm to keep key personnel, personnel they brought to the club as kids and developed into exceptional talent, which assisted them in being able to win two Premierships in 2007 and 2009 which were subsequently stripped and the records erased as part of penalties and punishments dished out by the then NRL administration under the leadership of David Gallop back in 2010.

After a forensic investigation commissioned by the former owners of the Melbourne Storm in News Limited (now known as News Corp) the outcome of the investigation proved what everyone was already thinking; that the blood was firmly on Waldron’s hands, how he mischievously mislead player managers and NRL officials. Waldron’s egotistical belief was he was left with no choice due to the NRL not wanting to see the Storm succeed because as he referred to it as ‘the northern markets” controlled the Game. It is Waldron’s word against Gallops and former NRL officials, who refute Waldron’s dire tribe.

Waldron believes he had come to an agreement with the ARL at the time who was charged with the responsibility of development of the game throughout the country. The supposed agreement was that Storm players would be paid a development fee to help promote the Storm and Rugby League in a non-traditional heartland to help win the hearts and minds of a new audience of a new market with Gallop giving Waldron the green light to do so. Gallop denies ever agreeing to such terms. The NRL auditors also said it was illegal and new contracts would have to be drawn up and lodged excluding these payments. This was the start of what would eventually lead to more cunning and crafty systematic cheating, which included setting up fake charity and event management companies which would provide players with additional funds that were negotiated with player managers and signed off on, yet these contracts never ever made it to NRL headquarters, instead, contracts excluding these additional payments were received. But I deviate from the issue.

League's Darkest Hour

        (Labelled as Rugby League’s Darkest Hour Photo courtesy of http://www.foxsports.com.au)

5 years on, Waldron now believes he deserves the opportunity for redemption, both personally and for his family’s sake. He believes he has been remorseful. He believes he has apologised enough, but has the remorse and apology reached those that were adversely affected by Waldron’s deceitful and fraudulent behaviour and management. Did Waldron personally apologise to the players? To the coaches? The officials? The stakeholders? The fans and members? I think all parties would unanimously agree that they have not received the supposed apology that they solemnly deserve. And even if it did come, what does it achieve? The hurt, the pain and the suffering will not be erased and all will be forgiven. Waldron’s best course of action would have been to stay quiet and never return to the public spotlight in any form or capacity.

But the arrogance of the disgraced administrator was always going to ensure this would never be the case. Waldron hopes that everyone has moved on, enabling him to resume a career in sports administration. Waldron stated, “at the end of day the game of rugby league hopefully is better for what happened to Melbourne Storm as hard as it is on the Storm people. The players still have got the tattoos, I think they certainly believe they won the premierships and deservedly so, but the game of rugby league is a far better game with the independent commission and the way it’s structured and if there is some lessons out of this, well then sometimes people have got to suffer and rightly so”

For someone who says he remains very apologetic and remorseful for bringing Melbourne Storm to its knees and almost single handily destroyed any future Rugby League had of prospering in Victoria, one could be excused for not taking Waldron’s supposed regret and repentance as sincere. Let’s put it into perspective. Had Brian Waldron worked in any other industry, be it the private sector, public service, finance etc. Waldron would have not only been terminated from his post, he would have been charged with fraud and faced jail time with his card marked for life, never to work in whatever industry again.

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(John Hartigan, David Gallop and Dr. Rob Moodie face the press conference where the NRL handed down the penalities for the Storm’s systematic salary cap rort Photo Courtesy of http://www.heraldsun.com.au)

Yet he believes that there has been enough water under the bridge to be given a second chance in sport? The hide of this corrupt individual. He betrayed the trust of the Melbourne Storm. The club, the coach, the players. Betrayed the trust of the National Rugby League, stakeholders, fans, members, the Storm’s owners, all for what? Success, via a win at all cost mentality? Which he now has the audacity to say that if he did not make the mistake of cheating, the strong culture that existed at the Storm would have ensured success anyway. If this was the case, then why cheat and cripple the organisation in the first place?

Waldron is a cheat. A liar. An unethical administrator who’s gift of the gab and salesmanship brought the game of Rugby League into disrepute and brought incredibly shame and humiliation on a football club that prided itself on its development programs, strong work ethic and instilled mantra of hard work, the foundation that Bellamy established when he arrived in late 2002. If it was not for the likes of strong individuals, strong leaders namely in Craig Bellamy, former CEO Ron Gauci and Cameron Smith, the Melbourne Storm may not have survived the events of 2010 that Waldron subjected the Victorian based franchise too.

Sponsors and commercial partners fled. Loyal and long-term members and fans who had barracked for the Purple Pride since the club’s inaugural inception back in 1998 walked away. So too did the fence sitters and interested on lookers who were just starting to warm to the game of Rugby League in the southern capital. They were lost due to the notion of not wanting to support a club that had become known as ‘cheats’. The Storm was damaged goods. The name and brand tarnished. The harm and destruction caused by Waldron was irreparable. Some other NRL clubs, especially those in the saturated Sydney market may have had to shut up shop. But not the Storm. Giving up was never an option.

12 months on, Melbourne fought back. They shed players, names such as Inglis, Hoffman, Finch, Lima, Tolman, Johnson left the side willingly or not to help get the Storm back on a level playing field with the rest of the competition. Bargain basement buys in Norrie, Woolnough, Thompson, Lowrie et al….were brought in to fill the gaps. Under the guidance and leadership of a Coach who his players would bleed for, the Storm finished minor premiers. Commercially, Gauci and his new administration managed to coerce Crown Resorts to sponsor the Storm. It wouldn’t be long until Crown’s gamble would be rewarded with Melbourne finishing as Minor Premiers in 2011 and eventually Premiers in 2012.

Schermerhorn (2010) explains that authentic leadership “involves both owning one’s personal experiences and acting in accordance with one’s true self. Although no one is perfectly authentic, authenticity is something to strive for”. Positive self-efficacy, possessing optimism, hope and having resilience. These are vital traits for a leader to portray, to positively influence their followers.” (p.332, Organizational Behaviour. Eleventh Edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)

These traits were evident when the sensational events of 2010 hit Melbourne. Bellamy remained strong. Strong in the face of adversity, strong for his players. Bellamy knew that if he showed weakness, the entire operation and everything he had worked so hard for, would all come crumbling down. It was his leadership that kept the Storm together. Such strength as his high emotional intelligence for those around him, at the forefront was the welfare and well-being of his players along with his strong cohesiveness. The salary cap scandal would complete the leadership journey for Bellamy. For some coaches in sport, their biggest challenges are assembling a roster to become competitive. For others, it is about winning competitions. For Bellamy, his greatest leadership triumph would be to re-build the Storm from the bottom up.

Coach Craig Bellamy was asked what was so special about the Melbourne Storm Rugby League Club. He replied saying “purple is a nice colour, but that doesn’t make a club. The emblem is a nice emblem, but that doesn’t make a club. The reason it’s a special club, it’s because of the people in the club” and how true those words are 5 years on. The Storm can thank Brian Waldron for one thing. That being understanding what ‘resilience’ is; to withstand, to endure, to stick together to survive any ‘Storm’ that may come their way.
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(If not for strong leadership in Craig Bellamy, the Storm may not of survived the events of 2010 Photo Courtesy of http://www.couriermail.com.au)

 

NRL Season 2015 Preview: The Melbourne @Storm #NRL #RugbyLeague #purplepride #Melbourne #Storm

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Storm celebrate Round 1 2014Storm celebrate one of the brighter moments last season and will be hoping for success in 2014 (Photo courtesy of http://www.abc.net.au)

Last season placing: 6th (eliminated in Week 1 of the Finals)

Pre-Season. A hyphenated word that all footballers hate hearing. None more so than squad members of the Melbourne Storm. Since the arrivial of Craig Bellamy in late 2002, the infamous pre-season training has been said to be the hardest training of all NRL clubs, with rival players who have both joined and left the Storm over the past 12 years, testifying to this fact. Brutal, treacherous, inhumane, many credit the success of the Storm over a decade of distinction down to the hard 16 weeks of their pre-season. And 2015, is not about to let up. Disappointment and failure of their own standards and objectives is what fuels Melbourne. Finishing 6th in 2014, their lowest position on the Premiership ladder since the 2005 season (*excluding 2010) was simply not good enough. Whilst many aspiring rivals would have been rapt just to make the Top 8, not the Storm, who pride themselves on being the benchmark. With Slater missing the Four Nations and enjoying his first full off-season break, accompanied by a young, vigorous squad that is growing in maturity, 2015 is not so much about ‘righting the wrongs’ or redemption, but more so improvement. Improvement in defence. Improvement in their execution. Melbourne will be hoping that not only the likes of Jesse Bromwich, Kevin Proctor, Will Chambers to grow another leg, but will be banking on the likes of Mahe Fonua, Tohu Harris and Jordan McLean to take more ownership of a First Grade side they are very much a part of.

Key Players: Whilst it is incredibly cliché, the Storm’s key players are of course the touted ‘Big 3’ in Smith, Slater and Cronk. Melbourne’s three representative stars are crucial to the Victorian franchises hopes of not only being competitive, but featuring in September and going deep into the Finals. Whilst now on the wrong side of 30, the fountain of youth and throwaway line of ‘age is just a number’ will certainly be being watched, scrutinized and tested by many experts, commentators and rivals alike. But there is one thing that you can never do, and that is write off a champion. The Storm’s ‘Big 3’ have proven that they thrive under pressure and love nothing more than to prove people wrong. With Slater having his first off-season in 7 years, Cronk having an extended lay off and Smith having ankle surgery which will see him well rested, it might just be the perfect tonic to avoid burnout, fatigue and revitalise their charge for Premiership glory in 2015. Storm prop Jesse Bromwich will also be looking to replicate his 2014 form with another strong showing leading the Melbourne pack. There is also a tremendous opportunity for young halves in Shaun Nona and Ben Hampton to finally make the troublesome 5/8th position their own. The sooner Cooper Cronk knows he has a stable partner in the halves, the more dangerous the Storm’s attack will be. Cohesion in a spine boasting arguably three of the world’s best players is imperative.

Cooper+Cronk+Storm+v+Warriors+-zepHYmsk_ZlThe Melbourne Maestro. The conductor of the Storm’s attack, will be crucial to Melbourne’s success in 2015 (Photo courtesy of http://www.melbournestorm.com.au)

Drawbacks: Despite some personnel moving on, there does not seem to be any noted omissions that will see the Storm suffer in Season 2015. The shock retirement of club and fan favourite Bryan Norrie and favourite son Ryan Hofflan taking up a lucreative offer with the Warriors, it will hurt Melbourne from perhaps an experience perspective, however, the fortunate signing of former test and NSW Origin prop in Tom Leroyd-Lahrs and late off-season recruit in Dale Finucane from Canterbury-Bankstown will certainly fill the void. With Premiership winning outside back Justin O’Neill also seeking a release to join Nth QLD, it provides a real opportunity for the next crop of exciting young outside backs in the likes of Richie Kennar, Hymel Hunt, Young Tonumaipea, Suliasi Vunivalu, Kurt Mann to push their claims for a position in the Storm’s backline.

Player to watch: ‘Rookie’ Nelson Asofa-Solomona. The New Zealand born back rower is a towering menace who dominated in the NYC U20’s competition in 2014, so much that he ended up playing a handful of NSW Cup games to mix it against the more senior brigade and level. A promising Rugby Union player in New Zealand, Asofa-Solomona gave up a prospective All Blacks opportunity to take up a challenge with the Storm, one that I’m sure his team mates and Coach Craig Bellamy are both thankful and excited about. Asofa-Solomona’s future not only with Melbourne but Rugby League is something to savour. It won’t be long before his name will be regularly appearing in team list Tuesday alongside fellow Kiwi’s in Proctor and Harris who will certainly be making up the Storm back row in 2015 and well into the future.

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Storm Rookie, Nelson Asofa-Solomona will be looking to cement a regular NRL spot in 2015 (Photo courtesy of www.melbournestorm.com.au)

Story of 2015: One thing that the Storm prides itself on is it’s well known ‘culture’. That being hard work; a strong work ethic. No cutting corners and every player doing their job as per Coach Craig Bellamy’s personal job description to each and every one of his players. That culture seemed to be wavering a little and certain points in 2014, with uncharacteristic defence and poor completions seeing the Storm’s premiership credentials questioned. However, a strong end and finish to 2014 see the famous culture back and restored with many rivals looking over their shoulders fearing Melbourne could yet again inflict pain and heartache come Finals. Bellamy will be ramming it home that they must avoid a similar start to their 2015 campaign and reacquaint themselves with that hard edged defence that the Storm has been well renowned for well over a decade. Forget about wanting to prove the naysayers wrong; instrinsic motivation will be the Storm’s key to success.

Season 2015 Predictions
Ladder: 5th.
Top Tryscorer: Marika Koroibete
Top Pointscorer: Cameron Smith
Player of the Year: Billy Slater

Written by @dwatsonhayes