A Favourite September Pastime

Filed in Other by on December 10, 2010

“History never repeats
I tell myself before I go to sleep”

-Split Enz

The bad news for Cronulla fans is that history does, in fact, repeat itself. There is no point in suggesting otherwise be you a fan of Split Enz or the Cronulla Sharks. It repeats itself constantly, particularly when it comes to failure and ineptitude and an inability to succeed. History has a way of reinforcing the worst with each failure piling on top of itself, mauling its victim like a bear fucking a lamb until the pressure becomes so great on the shoulders of the perennial loser that they are actually defeated before the starting gun has even fired. Losers are suffocated by history. The scars of yesterday never heal and when you have accumulated enough of them you become nothing more than a cheap freak show with a self-image complex. Freaks are not renowned for high levels of personal confidence or an ability to accomplish great deeds.

And so, as honest and reliable as time, Cronulla again blew their chance to win their first premiership. The count now stands at forty-one failures. There is no greater example of history repeating itself than the Cronulla Sharks. “If the Sharks were a pug, they would be dead or at the very least in the streets” punched Boris the Horse, a gambler well versed in rugby league and the fight game, before the Great Inevitable on Friday evening. “Ah, Cronulla” texted Mr. Rugby, some ten minutes into proceedings, delighted that at least one truth remains just that; a truth. “I am sitting here with absolute certainty that Cronulla are going to do what they always do and screw it up.” Indeed.

It was a great thrill to watch the Sharks collapse like weeping children. The pressure of history and occasion had crippled the Sharks once more. Failure, once it is in the blood, is very hard to shake. It is like the Plague. Not too many survived that ordeal. Take that as you may.

Your author, well-read in history, has always taken a perverse enjoyment in the misery of Cronulla and its fans. It is a favourite tradition of mine to witness the Sharks faithful build themselves up into such a fervent September frenzy only to be whacked in the kneecaps with the finish line in sight. There is no better way to spend September. It always leaves me somewhat hollow when Cronulla mire themselves in mediocrity and miss out on finals football. Their hopelessness robs me of my favourite September pastime. Deep down there is a part of me that cheers the Sharks on from March to August even though I rarely admit such a shameful habit.

It has always scraped me like a toenail on gravel how Cronulla fans are perennially optimistic in the face of such a wretched history, refusing to acknowledge their own private pain, concealing it with a manufactured hope that The Fates will smile on them “this year.” They refuse to acknowledge that it is their manifest destiny to never win, that they are the Washington Generals of the National Rugby League. Sharks fans are history deniers. Their simpleton’s approach to existence belies all sense of reality and insults the pain that all other sports fans have dealt with and been forced to accept. Their contrived enthusiasm and willingness to cast the blame on any and every external factor, refusing to look within for the constant string of failures their club has become known for, is as excruciating for outsiders as it is pathetic. The fact that Cronulla are coached by the obnoxious and deeply ugly Ricky Stuart and captained by the despicable and grubby Paul Gallen and have such loathsome characters on their playing roster as the soft-bellied Ben Ross and the four-hoofed Ben Pomeroy only makes it easier to work up feelings of genuine dislike for Cronulla this season.

Their treatment of Chris Anderson, a rugby league champion of the highest order, also did nothing to endear themselves to anybody who knows anything about rugby league. The Fates were most unimpressed by the Sharks treatment of a living king.

A gentleman by the name of Nathan Boss, a man who would be somewhat familiar at least in description to loyal readers, these days of Our Nation’s Capital and once a citizen of Orange, New South Wales, must accept much of the blame for the joy I take in watching the Sharks September failures. He, aside from being a jinx renowned for his bad luck in many parts, embodies everything loathsome about the Cronulla faithful. He is a decent chap- knowledgeable and polite and quite a hit with Eastern European women. When it comes to Cronulla, however, he turns into a smiling dunce, always believing and pushing aside history as one would a cold cup of tea, forever optimistic that the fortunes of his team are on the verge of changing. He recalls the pain of so many lost preliminary finals and he has his cast of villains; Aaron Raper and Sean Ryan in ’95 and ’96, Adam Dykes and Paul Mellor in ’99, Paul Simpkins and Chris Beattie in ’01, Chris Anderson and Paul Mellor in ’02, Brett Kimmorley and Danny Nutley and Blake Green and Tony Archer and David Simmons and Ricky Stuart on Friday night. I have heard about them all at five in the morning when we were buzzing on high quality mint juleps and manufactured love that can be purchased for $30 a pop if you know the right kind of people, jabbering away about the days of yore. He just refuses to accept that pain, to embrace it, just as his club refuses to accept the pain and realise it is the despair of defeat that makes one ready for success. He and his cohorts will not throw themselves in the fire and it is somewhat infuriating to the rest of us.

The Boss was not in much of a mood for a yarn in the wee hours of Friday evening. He was a little downcast yet he still seemed to believe it would all turn around next season. He was drunk and dancing in some Eastern Suburbs nightclub (one most frequently populated by Polish and Hungarian women, by all reports) and trying to forget the horror he had just witnessed. Yet he still remained hopeful about 2009. Amazing.

The Captain, as we call him and also a resident of Orange, New South Wales, was another Sharks fan not interested in a civilized conversation on history and rugby league and winning. “Piss off”, I was told, “How did the Dogs do this year?” Well, Captain, they failed miserably, reeking upon all the people who call Belmore home pestilence, famine, embarrassment and humiliation. Only the sado-masochists among us would have enjoyed it and even most of that lot would have struggled to raise the self-loathing to justify the constant punishment. I also informed The Captain that we at Canterbury know what victory is all about and asked if he remembered 2004 and 2002 and 1995 and 1988 and 1985 and 1984 and 1980 and perhaps even 1942 and 1938. Last is pretty much the same as losing a Grand Final or a prelim. The only difference is that the pain is duller and stays with you a lot longer, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as opposed to being shot in the neck. At least we at the Bulldogs have been drunk on the sweet nectar of victory and have the priceless memories of Grand Times stored away forever and a day.

A bookmaker associate with a deep affection for the Sharks, a man who for many years refused to accept the notion that the only measure of success was titles, snubbed my Friday evening phone calls, petulantly ignoring the taunts he was due, at the same time embittering The Fates he so desperately calls upon on long nights of rugby league-driven insomnia.

Among the Sharks faithful there remains plenty of optimism about the immediate future. I guess there always is among that lot the same way cockatoos always seem pretty content in their ignorance and stupidity. The Sharks, however, are going nowhere. They are not a team on the up. This will be their high watermark for the next five seasons and probably more. Ricky Stuart does not possess the tactical nous to win important club games. His intensity works well in April but when it comes to September he is found sorely lacking. The Sharks forward pack is too one-dimensional to ever be effective. Paul Gallen is a whiner and a grub and that is a bad example to be set by a supposed leader. Their backline has very little creativity and I doubt whether even Trent Barrett can fix that under Stuart’s leadership.

The Sharks future looks as bleak and desolate as their past.

For those wise-heads among us who can’t stand the team, it is nothing but chuckling and smiling and the hope that we get to do it all again next September.

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