Why #RugbyLeague needs and owes the Gold Coast @GCTitans #ThruNThru #NRL #iwillneverwalkaway #Titans

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(From Rugby League, to Basketball, AFL and Soccer, all codes and forms of sport have struggled to endure and survive on the glitter strip – Photo courtesy of http://www.sportal.com.au)

Beautiful one day, disastrous the next? No it’s not a new slogan or marketing campaign for Queensland tourism, but one could be forgiven thinking it’s the catch cry of the Gold Coast Titans. After enduring hit after hit, knock after knock, blow after blow, the Titans finally raised the white flag on Tuesday, surrending themselves at the hands and mercy of the NRL. The Titans, the youngest NRL expansion franchise placed itself into administration, unable to financially commit to growing debts. This had many thinking that now the NRL can once and for all euthanize the ailing football club and set up a new franchise in Brisbane effective immediately. However, contrary to what many experts, media commentators and lounge chair and bar stool warriors want to happen, the NRL reaffirmed its support and its unwavering commitment to both the Titans brand and persisting with Rugby League on the Gold Coast. NRL CEO Dave Smith personally flew to the tourist strip on Wednesday to meet with Titans officials and the executive to suggest as much and show solidarity towards a club that’s sustained more hits than Elvis in recent times. But why would he?

Three decades of failure. The Giants, the Seagulls, the Gladiators, the Chargers have all tried, tested and failed. The Gold Coast in their new life as the Titans seemed on course to join them. That did not seem to matter to the Games fearless leader. Addressing the media with a robust determination. Fielding multiple questions about the future, about the debt, about taking over the club, new structures and of course the allegations of drug supply and trafficking with it all being linked back to the impending death of the Titans as a Rugby League club. Smith and the NRL know how important the Titans are to the Gold Coast and how important Rugby League is in this part of the world. Giving up and walking away would virtually hand the AFL with a monopoly of the region. When you consider the Gold Coast junior nursery and catchment begins at Coffs Harbour and ends at Logan, just south of Brisbane, the Titans have one of the largest junior bases and pathway systems in Australian sport. 7,000 plus juniors playing ‘The Greatest Game of All’. But beyond the turf war, there is a much bigger battle the NRL and the Titans have to win, that it still hasn’t won over the community at large.

Rugby League is yet to capture the hearts and minds of its inhabitants of South East QLD’s Gold Coast. By leaving, it will be a region lost to the sport forever with Queensland as a whole not being able to shore up the entire east coast without it. The demographics, the second fastest population growth in the country, the juniors, the business community and dare we say, the tourists. They are all variables and in somewhat vital participants in the Titans and Rugby League’s long term future, viability and success. Success. Something that has been few and far between for the Gold Coast for far too long, which is not entirely their fault. Poor management both by the club(s) and the Game has resulted in mixed results and an ability to fend off continued uncertainty. No other sporting franchise has had as many brands and name, colour and jersey designs. It has been shambolic to put it bluntly.

Coincidence? Just bad luck? Or was it always destined to fail? – Photo courtesy of http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au)

Although, with the NRL now effectively owning them, there is air of optimism and renewed faith that the Titans wont follow suit of its predecessors who have been and gone before them. The NRL had to act. It had to step in. Whilst the NRL endeavours to have all of its licensed NRL franchises sustainable going forward into the future, the Titans is a perfect example of the difficult of how hard it is to keep an organisation prosperous in a volatile market and a weakening economy. But that does not mean it can never or will never work. It takes a tremendous amount of hard work and a little bit of luck (which could also be deemed as on field success) The Game could not sit back, idly by and see the Titans sink for two main reasons. The first, the $1.025 Billion Broadcast deal. Channel 9 and Fox Sports forked out huge biscuits for a product that it demands to show a minimum 8 Games a week via free to air and subscription television. If a 16 team competition suddenly becomes a 15 team comp, the contract is null and void and the NRL’s bank account is looking extremely dubious. Smith knows he couldn’t dare risk that. The Game depends on its broadcast rights deal as a fundamental revenue stream which all various stakeholders, departments and tiers benefit from as well as participant NRL clubs rely on as funding.

The second, the Gold Coast just like Nth QLD, Brisbane, Melbourne are a vital element in the game’s long term strategy. That strategy is seeing the ‘National’ in National Rugby League actually come to fruition. Franchises like the Titans, the Cowboys, the Storm are crucial for Rugby League to have a strong national footprint, securing market share, capturing new audiences and continuing to see generational growth in these respective markets long term. The Gold Coast shores up the NRL’s presence along the east coast of Australia. Which spans from Townsville to Wollongong. No other sporting code in the country covers as much ground and territory. That is a lot of terrain and with it comes a lot of interest, fans and members which keeps the sport salient. Salience is the key. Being pertinent and visible is half the battle. So whilst the naysayers and pessimists will death ride Rugby League on the Gold Coast, the NRL won’t be turning off the life support now, nor in the future. The Gold Coast are here to stay, as in the lifeform of the Titans, remains to be seen, but Rugby League will persist, it will endure and it will succeed with the right plan, the right strategy and with the right people in place to take the club and the game forward.

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The legion of loyal Gold Coast fans and its growing community deserve a successful Rugby League team of their own – Photo courtesy of http://www.couriermail.com.au)

Despite the skeptisim and many death riding Rugby League and the NRL’s continued perserverance of having a Rugby League presence and representation of the Gold Coast citing failure and comparing it to urinating in the wind, the Gold Coast were actually building towards a stable, successful future during the Super League war. Aligning itself with the ARL and taking on new ownership as the Chargers in 1996, the Gold Coast made the Finals in 1997, with a no name roster compared to their counterparts. However, a political compromise ended its lifespan with the News Corp owned Super League killing off the Hunter Mariners, Perth Reds and Adelaide Rams whilst the ARL pulled the plug on the South QLD Crushers and inevitably the Gold Coast Chargers. The history of first-grade teams on the Gold Coast is indeed a chequered one former Gold Coast Chargers player, son on South Sydney’s legend John Sattler, Scott Sattler who soon would call Penrith and Wests home, was quick to point out the reasons behind the demise of the Chargers, and insisted the area can run a successful club. “Everyone keeps saying that the Chargers was a failure, which it wasn’t,” Sattler said. “It was collateral damage from Super League and was a club that financially finished with money in the bank, which a lot of clubs can’t hang their hat on.”

Should the Chargers have not been killed off, one tends to think “what might of been?” and if they would have been able to build on what they were developing and establishing both on the field and off it. Future Origin players, a future Dally M player and a clubman who pulled off one of the greatest tackles in Grand Final history for the Panthers in 2003. Throw in strong financial and commercial viability moving forward with money in the bank in an era where NRL clubs were leaking money and being propped up by News Corp and the ARL’s benefactor of Optus. No one disputes that the history of Rugby League on the Gold Coast isn’t pretty. But the Game was responsible for turning away fans, members and the community for ending the Chargers life as a Rugby League Football Club. It must accept the blame for that. The NRL owes the Gold Coast for making the wrong call, a horrendous strategic decision which deprived the region of Rugby League for 9 long years and it is indebted to not let the community, fans and members of the Gold Coast Titans ever feel abandoned and that their support for the club and Rugby League is not valued ever again.
SattlerFormer Charger Scott Sattler knows how important a Rugby League ‘presence’ and representation is needed on the Gold Coast, now and in the long term – Photo Courtesy of http://www.nrl.com)

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Why the @GCTitans need DCE #ThruNThru #NRL #RugbyLeague #Titans

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(The Game’s hottest property has a big decision to make – Photo courtesy of http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au)

   (Written prior to when the alleged drugs scandal broke)

Having spent a good part of a week on Queensland’s Gold Coast for two motives. The first, I was in desperate need of a little R&R after working straight through Christmas and the New Year period. Secondly, to attend the return of the Rugby League All Stars fixture, the NRL All Stars V the Indigenous All Stars. The build up during the week was as good as it has ever been, with the major emphasis being in giving back to the community, with both sets of players from both teams, Wayne Bennett’s handpicked NRL side, whilst the fan voted Indigenous mob both mingled with the locals and mentored young indigenous youth. It’s the kind of goodwill that forever goes unnoticed by many, but appreciated by those who are touched by the kind generosity our footballers and our code provide to the society. For what its worth, the All Stars, just like the previous four contests was a resounding success. Whilst many were worried about the turnout, the fans voted with their feet, eclipsing 23,000 in attendance, a great crowd for an array of explanations; we are still several weeks away from football fever from officially hitting and there is still Cricket, A-League being played. 484,000 people tuned, a sure sign that League lovers are craving for the NRL season to return in earnest. But whilst we celebrate the great spectacle and event, the healthy attendance and impressive tv ratings, there is a rather large elephant or shall we say ‘Titan’ in the room. The Gold Coast NRL franchise has been anything but a success. Heading into its 9th year of existence, the Titans have been anything but a godsend for the NRL. Whilst showing considerable promise and success in its first three seasons, the Titans have been more like the Titanic, sinking rather than sailing to a destination of a Premiership, success and sustainability. Members and fans have walked away. So too has commercial partners and sponsors of the football club. Due to their dire financial situation, they were forced to sell and eventually abandon the Centre of Excellence and their Robina Training base where Cbus Stadium is located. The Titans are now operating out of a high school a little bit further up the road at Southport High School. Gone is the first class gym. Gone is the first class high altitude chamber and rehabilitation facilities. Gone is the luxury that the Titans had at their disposal; that were the envy of other NRL and sporting clubs around the world. Robina-Stadium(A sight to behold. CBUS Super Stadium packed to the rafters watching the Titans much earlier on in the peace – Photo courtesy of http://www.mygc.com.au)

So where did all go wrong? People can point the finger at Michael Searle, who was instrumental in bringing the Titans to life who’s business model for the club was dealt an improbable blow when the GFC hit and the company that was responsible for building the property arm of their business went belly up, leaving the Titans with no tenants and a floundering debt. Others may blame the previous administration and management for being too nice with former Coach John Cartwright who really had no pressure from anyone to hold his and his team’s performance to account over countless years of failure. Perhaps a little from column A, a little from column B. But alas, change was needed, a needed quickly. Whilst the astute appointment of Graham Annesley as the Titans CEO, a successful business woman as chair in Rebecca Frizelle; a board of directors with business acumen, vision and strategy are once again priority and is on course for the future direction, prosperity and survival of the Gold Coast Titans. Add to the fact, a new coach with fresh ideas, a new voice will be heard for the first time in 9 years. They say change is inevitable. Or that change is as good as a holiday. When you live, reside on Australia’s most famous coastline and tourist destination; every day seems to be a holiday. The unity ticket of Annesley-Frizelle-Henry at the helm, the Titans will feel like that they are anywhere but Queensland’s Gold Coast “beautiful one day, perfect the next” with a new motto of “Hard work one day, torture the next”. Annasley(CEO and veteran administrator Graham Annesley has his work cut out for him – Photo courtesy of the http://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au)

So whilst the new foundations have been laid and a plan for the future, that may very well take sometime to attain, what is needed to finally make the Gold Coast a success? Been and gone has the Gold Coast since the early 1980’s. The Giants, the Seagulls, the Chargers. All defunct, 6 feet under pushing up flowers at cemeteries between Helensvale and Tweed Heads. The Titans have everything going for them. A large junior nursery at their disposal than spans from Coffs Harbour to the outskirts of Brisbane. A demographic and population that all sporting organisations would die to have, attract and win their hearts and minds. A stadium built perfectly for Rugby League and is comparatively seen as a mini Suncorp Stadium. Star players in Australian and Origin representatives, namely in Nate Myles, Greg Bird and Dave Taylor not to mention some amazing talent coming through in Kane Elgey and Kieran Mosley who is already being compared to a young Cameron Smith (you may have heard of him. Goes alright, can play a bit). But something is missing. It’s like there is a missing piece of the jugsaw puzzle that can solve the Titans issues on field and off. The Titans head into Season 2015 with a blank canvas for a modern day sports jersey; meaning, they are missing major commercial partners emblazed and sublimated all over their playing strip. And can you blame an prospective business wanting to align themselves and their brand with a sporting organization that really does not provide a significant return on their investment? It doesn’t matter how good of a salesperson Annesley and is commercial team may be, winning lotto would be an easier task than attempting to selling the Titans brand to businesses. So what is needed? First of all success. People love winners. Titans(In much need of on field success as much as they need off it – Photo Courtest of http://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au)

The Titans have shown in the past that when they are flying high and winning games, the community turns up and rallies behind their region’s NRL representative side. So winning and making the finals would be a great point to start at (No pressure Neil Henry, no pressure). And whilst not wanting to dwell or encourage the new Titans administration to look backwards, the Gold Coast need a figure of significant status who can be a significant savior as much as he is on the field as he is off it. The Titans got it right in 2007 when they lured Premiership winning Wests halfback Scott Prince back to Queensland to be the inaugural captain and face of the new franchise. And it worked. Prince encompassed everything you wanted in a footballer for a budding new entity. Talented, personable, receptive and was a leader, on and off the field. So whilst cloning one’s DNA is not feasible, the Titans need another ‘Scott Prince’. Prince not only attracted other star quality players to the Gold Coast, he brought and boosted interest, brought in revenue through his star appeal with sponsors throwing themselves to be associated with the new NRL’s newest franchise. So which current off contract superstar has the same qualities, characteristics that could reinvigorate the fledging Titans? There’s only one name that comes to mind. DCE. Daly Cherry-Evans. A clean cut, poster boy of the game who hails from Queensland; a current Premiership, Origin and test representative half who would breathe new life into Rugby League on the Gold Coast. A well spoken, articulate, family man, Cherry-Evans shapes as the potential ‘golden child’ for the Titans. And if you believe what you ready, coach Neil Henry will move heaven and earth to get DCE to the Gold Coast club. Cherry-Evans could very well be Scott Prince MkII or Version 2.0, defibrillating the heart beat of NRL interest back amongst the South East QLD community. Just as Karmichael Hunt or in more recent times Gary Abblett Jr has provided the Suns with, DCE potentially shapes as the Titans most important signing in the Gold Coast’s history. Bigger than Wally Lewis. Bigger than Martin Bella (sorry, couldn’t resist), bigger than Preston Campbell and much bigger than Luke Bailey or Scott Prince. Imagine the profound impact DCE would have on the Titans. Every kid and junior player on the Gold Coast would want to go watch the halfback in action, inspiring them to choose a steeden over a sherrin. It would give the Titans star appeal, attracting potential off contract players to the club and keeping emerging talent on the Gold Coast to play along side the representative halfback. DCE would be a tremendous commodity of the Titans, drawing interest commercially, propping up revenue and income for the Titans off field targets and endeavours making them a much more financially stable and secure entity. It would be the shot in the arm the titans desperately seek and need, but will it happen? Time will tell. Prince(The main attraction, Scott Prince. Princew brought leadership, experience, skill as well as added perks of attracting star players and sponsors – Photo Courtesy of http://www.smh.com.au)

If it’s money, security, lifestyle and a challenge that is the criteria for DCE, then the Gold Coast tick all the boxes and then some. Cherry-Evans would almost be responsible for resurrecting the fortunes of the Titans. Rebuilding the Gold Coast from the bottom up. Similar to Wests Tigers, the Titans seemed to have never of recovered since Scott Prince parted ways with the club. Henry, Rankin, Bird, Sezer, Kelly, Mortimer have all tried to emulate and be the leader and playmaker that the Titans have desperately needed, but have bombed out, having never comes remotely close to Prince’s class and legacy. DCE, however, would. Cherry-Evans may even eclipse Prince as the Gold Coast’s greatest ever leader and playmaker. A title, a challenge, a label that the soon to be Million Dollar playmaker, would sit comfortably with him. The only question’s that beckon is “will the Gold Coast Titans dreams comes true? Will DCE be the hero that the Titans urgently need him to be?” God knows, they need someone….

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

End of an era? Dynasty over? Far from it, whilst Bellamy continues to set a new forecast for a resurgent #Melbourne @storm in 2015 #NRL #RugbyLeague #purplepride

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Is the purple reign all but over? Has the Melbourne juggernaut finally ran out of gas? The decade of dominance has ended. Just some of the questions and statements being made by many rugby league experts and critics on the Storm’s elimination from the 2014 final series. Not so much in being eliminated, but in the manner they were defeated. A comprehensive, ruthless mauling by the Bulldogs of Belmore, a modern day rival who featured in Melbourne’s eventual Premiership victory in 2012.

2012. What’s so significant about that year apart from the obvious? Apart from winning the premiership, this was the year the Storm last won a finals game. After losing 5 games in a row in 2012, Melbourne went on to win 8 straight including the Grand Final against Canterbury-Bankstown. But since then, the Victorian based franchise has failed to make a dent in September, bowing out in straight sets in 2013 after finishing a more than respectable third, whilst 2014 saw the Storm finish 6th, the clubs lowest finish to a season since 2005.

Whilst Coach Craig Bellamy, Captain Cameron Smith and the team’s attacking maestro in Cooper Cronk have all stated and cited the severe lack of consistency as the primary reason and factor the Storm, instead of progressing into the second week of the finals, now find themselves looking towards 2015. Inconsistency in their defensive aptitude. Inconsistency in their execution. Inconsistency in their completion rate. Inconsistency in not competing for the entire 80 minutes. Facets that the Storm has been renowned for; being the benchmark in all these areas.

Whilst finishing the year as one of the form teams of the competition, winning 6 from its last 8 remaining games and turning around its rankings sending an ominous warning to its opponents, the Storm failed to fire in their favourite time of the year. Having everything in their favour; a home final on a dry track, 20,000 Melburnian’s cheering them on, Melbourne were far from the dominant force and were worlds away from their clinical best only to be beaten embarrassingly by a red hot Bulldogs outfit who have had the wood on Melbourne in their last 4 encounters.

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Bellamy described it as “bloody embarrassing to be quite honest” whilst Cooper Cronk explained that he was “lost for words” not being able to explain what had happened to see the Storm painstakingly defeated 28-4, with the only points coming off the halfback’s boot for a departing Sisa Waqa try. Whilst the fitness of the club’s hooker and leader was an issue, the Storm’s attitude and mindset sadly saw them take to the field ‘expecting things to just happen’ as Bellamy exclaimed in the post match press conference.

Melbourne bid farewell a host of experience, namely in one of the club’s favourite son’s in Ryan Hoffman who will be shifting to the New Zealand Warriors in 2015 after 11 colourful seasons at the Storm, whilst Premiership and Fijian international Sisa Waqa will be heading to the nation’s capital after accepting a 3 year deal with the Canberra Raiders. The club also loses Mitch Garbutt, Tim Glasby, Joel Romelo, Ben Roberts, Junior Moors and George Rose with no significant signings apart from former journeyman in Blake Green and former NSW and Australian prop Tom Leroyd-Lahrs who will link up with the Storm for off-season training, hoping to re-establish themselves and their fledging NRL careers.

Throw in the chorus that many of the game’s commentators and pundits are once again saying that the Storm’s ‘big 3’ are not the same players they once were, citing age, their workload and the game as a whole catching up with the enigmatic trio. But is this really the case? One tends to think otherwise. After having a limited pre-season and in some respect, not having a pre-season at all thanks to a combination of the Rugby League World Cup and surgery, Smith, Slater and Cronk started the year slower than usual. However, come Origin time, the three amigos were back to their brilliant best, especially Cronk.

After breaking his arm in the 8th minute of Origin I, Cronk defied the odds to play in the final Origin Game 6 weeks after the initial fracture and virtually won the Queensland Maroons the game with his organisation and astute kicking game. He carried that sublime form back to club land and put the Storm back on the radar for a strong finish and threatening finals campaign. The Melbourne magician was dominant and went close to being the Storm’s best for the club’s last 8 games, yet not even the reigning Dally M Medalist could stop the mauling of the Bulldogs in their elimination final at AAMI Park.

Clearing kick by Cronk

(Photo courtesy of http://www.melbournestorm.com.au/news/2014/09/15/in_pictures_elimination_final.html)

Like all professional sporting teams, a post-season review will take place trying to uncover what went so horribly wrong; identifying what worked and what did not; areas that need attention and ultimately identifying areas of improvement to ensure that a repeat of the failures are not retold in 12 months time. Storm captain Cameron Smith implored his playing group that the only way to rectify the side’s disappointing failures is to change the mindset and attitude; stating that he would no longer accept second-rate efforts once preseason resumed with the aim of ending the inconsistent play that has troubled the side in the past two seasons. “It’s our consistency, without a doubt. It’s been an issue here for a couple of years now,” Smith said. “It was probably the thing we were best in the competition at in the past 10 years minus the past two seasons. “That’s something we need to address and it starts at training, that’s where it starts.”

Smith along with Bellamy loathes nothing more than not achieving their own high standards and expectations. Hence why the Melbourne Storm culture is one of the best not only in Rugby League, but in world sport. Can they turn it around and become the consistent force and side they intend on once again becoming? If any team is to do it, it is the Storm. Bellamy’s authoritarian approach; a noted stickler for perfection will be issuing the challenge to his playing group. It will once again be up to the senior leaders to lead the way and implore the younger members of the squad to work harder and buy into what Melbourne have built, established and are about as a club.

The likes of Tohu Harris, Mahe Fonua, Young Tonumaipea, Kenny Bromwich, Ben Hampton Jordan McLean will be better from the experience that the rigors of NRL First Grade provided them in 2014. The Storm will be expecting them to step up another level in 2015. Melbourne has invested heavily in its young crop of talented juniors instead of heading out into the market place in the past few seasons. The brains trust of the Storm football department have put their faith in these capable individuals. It’s time they repaid that faith with consistency in their football, working harder in the off season to strengthen areas of improvement and fine tune their respective traits which assisted Melbourne to make the finals.

The loss of Ryan Hoffman will undoubtedly leave a void. However the emergence, growth and maturity of Jesse Bromwich has shown that the Storm are not short of leaders. And whilst the evergreen trinity of Smith, Slater and Cronk are fit, the Melbourne Storm will always have the other 15 competitors looking over their shoulders, knowing that the men in purple will continue to be a premiership threat; even more so if they rediscover that consistency they will be looking to revive in the off-season in their preparation to atone in Season 2015. So write the Storm off at your own peril. There is still a lot of life left in this dynasty. The doubters are only fueling the fire which will motivate the purple machine to respond the only way they know how, with consistency.

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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’

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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