Hacking Off the Fat: Bringing Down the Hammer on a Miserable Bulldogs 2007 Finale and the Road to Salvation in 2008

Filed in Other by on December 5, 2010

I had high hopes for this season. I always do. Call it blind optimism or call it The Faith, it doesn’t bother me. If you don’t believe you are a winner you never will be. Just ask the losers in Cronulla and Parramatta and Buffalo and Boston. Not that they would admit it. But deep down I can only assume they are aware of their individual contributions to the failures of their local boys in the big time.

Hopes of Canterbury glory were dashed for the third consecutive season on Saturday evening. That is three seasons of misery, underachievement, shattered dreams, the death of hope and a real want to get Emo. That is three seasons of high blood pressure, broken lamps, ulcer inducing frustration and night times howling at the wind in the throes of another blood curdling failure.

Premierships are the only measure of success and anything less can only be deemed a failure. Anything short is not good enough, particularly when you have a team on paper who should win at least one title in that time frame.

Losing to Parramatta in a final was the final straw. Even in those dark hours of the dawn I kept the faith. It is a great personal failing of mine, a blind-spot that may one day prove fatal, to believe in Canterbury  rugby league even in the face of evidence to the contrary. I stood among the faithful in the amphitheatre and praised and hollered. I had visions of grandeur and saw victory in the moon. I stood, in faded blue and white, and cursed the heathens who dared wear gold. I looked upon the lush green turf and had no doubt.

Two hours later and we were all spitting up blood and dreaming of better times. It was an embarrassment of the highest order, a dark spot on the record of the Canterbury Rugby League Football Club that can never be erased. The Bulldogs lost it and have nobody to blame but themselves. As a playing group, as a club. Parramatta were merely the beneficiaries. That is horrible sportsmanship but so be it. You will never hear a good word about Parramatta in these pages. They outplayed Canterbury on Saturday night but they will never be better. It isn’t in their hearts. The officiating was again abhorrent and worthy of public shame but it wouldn’t have mattered. The Bulldogs would have struggled to beat the Sydney Girls High under thirteen’s side.

Things need to change. Now. For 2008. Before things get worse. Here is what needs to happen for the Bulldogs to return to the top, the birthright of all Bulldogs supporters.

The Halfback
Brent Sherwin is a bum and plays on the worse side of useless. He was undoubtedly the worst player on the field on Saturday night. His kicking game was repugnant, his decision making dim and his control, or lack thereof, contemptible. His defence is a liability and has been forever and a day, he plays with the common sense of a pig on acid and he manages one decent game out of six. The fact we kept this fool and sent Johnathan Thurston to Townsville still causes Bulldog fans to wake up on silent nights screaming with fear. It has been abundantly clear in recent times that a team cannot win a premiership without a decent half and Canterbury does not have one. A tip for the geeks in charge of recruitment and retention at Canterbury: BUY A GODDAMN HALFBACK. Repeat this mantra until it gets done because until it does the mighty Bulldogs will continue to fail like dumb skunks. Brent Sherwin is done and should be consigned to the scrapheap. He should never play first grade football again. Ben Roberts is not the answer but he could prove competent enough if he had someone semi-capable inside him. At the very least the Dogs halves for 2008 should be Ben Roberts and Daniel Holdsworth and even this would cause enough fear to spend next winter in worry.

Another tip for the Bulldogs front office that should most likely see me offered a scouting job by the end of the decade. Get some speed in the team. The Bulldogs move like stoners on a Sunday afternoon. Aside from Luke Patten, a champion who will be one of the few to escape my wrath, the backline is slow and sluggish. The three-quarter line would no doubt be the slowest in the entire competition and the modern game just does not allow for teams to play slow, particularly if you attempt it while playing stupid. Willie Tonga is not nearly the player he was before his knee surgery and should probably be shipped while Daryl Millard hardly lived up to the hype and Bulldog fans would not be upset to see him go. Those same fans would be positively rapturous if Matt Utai was struck from our lives forthwith. There is a real need for fast outside backs at Belmore and those pulling the strings had better do something about it. Stop bringing in only big ball playing forwards. There is more to rugby league!

Common Sense and Playing To a Plan
This is partly a reflection on the coach, whom I will get to soon enough, and partly a reflection on those making recruitment and retention decisions. The Bulldogs have developed a very frustrating habit of playing stupid, low-percentage football in recent years. Brent Sherwin has already been discussed. Ben Roberts has a habit of panicking. Matt Utai has an uncanny knack of taking the wrong decision every time defensively. There are stupid passes and handling errors. There is very little attacking of the opposition weaknesses. The kicking game has been ad-hoc at best. In the NFL, players are tested on their intelligence and their ability to learn. Canterbury should introduce similar measures.

Peter Moore never let the Dogs reach these lows. This front office has. They recruit poorly, they let good players go and they have allowed a culture of sulking and kicking back on your laurels to flourish. At times the front office has to get heavy and not just with the media. They also need to reward loyalty and show some respect to the past. Their treatment of Bulldogs greats like Garry Hughes was and is appalling while players constantly disregarding the advice of past Blue and White legends, an obvious reflection of front office attitudes, is just as bad. From Malcolm Noad down, they are on notice.

Back to Belmore
Canterbury play without the advantage of a home ground. The Showground was bad but it was something we could call our own. Telstra is nothing more than a hollow monument to all that is wrong with rugby league. Teams like Manly, Parramatta and the Sharks have a major advantage in playing at a venue with an atmosphere and individual characteristics. Canterbury get the sterility of an 80,000 seat stadium a quarter full at best, played on by at least two other clubs that call the venue home. Canterbury should never have left Belmore no matter what the money offered. Money should be spent on getting Belmore up to standard and returning home. Hell, we are Canterbury. It is time some in the club remember that.

The Coach
Don’t get me wrong. I love Steven Folkes. He was a fantastic player, a premiership winner and the personification of Bulldog toughness, and has been a fine coach. He is no Chris Anderson but there is no shame in that because few humans are. He took us through that magical September in 1998, he showed us the beauty of rugby league glory in 2002 and he lifted the Premiership in 2004. He has done plenty of good at Canterbury in his decade long rein and he will be remembered fondly. But his time has come and this is a sad but true reality. Pass the baton to Kevin Moore (the job must be kept in the family) and walk away with grace and dignity. The players aren’t responding to his methods and his game plans seem non-existent these days. The Folkes era has petered badly. Two of the last three years have been abortions while 2006 finished in a manner that has never been accepted out Canterbury way. Nine wins in 2005 was completely unacceptable and the worst season I have witnessed as a Canterbury fan, capped off by the disgraceful-bordering-on-criminal performance in the last round against the Roosters. 2006 was solid but ended with a finals choke. And this season has been one bumbling effort after another. Thanks for the memories Folkesy and Godspeed for the future. But your time has come and we all need to embrace a fresh start.

And that is what needs to be done. It is heavy and it may seem harsh but when you play like pansies and you send a season to hell, that is what needs to happen. Rugby League is too important to waste another year.

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