Lost in Transition

Filed in Other by on December 11, 2010

“I know you’re worn out
But I’m worn out too”
-Richmond Fontaine, Post To Wire

For good or ill, you reach a number of lucid realisations when you are riding the porcelain bus after a heavy night of popping vodka and ginger ale like creaming soda on a warm summer’s evening, throwing up seemingly every organ you think is jammed inside you, a kind of masochistic internal cleansing crossed with your own personal disembowelment. It is a bitter Melbourne morning and the wind blows off Bass Strait and rain drizzles and you are keeled over in an all-body sweat that drips into your eyes as you wretch up everything from last night’s walk-home hot dog to some dark coloured substance you hope is bile. It is usually at this time, be it due to the hallucinations or the hope that you will make it out alive, that you ponder the heavy issues.

You think of life and love and whether you are going to ever see those you care about again. Death, it seems, may be about to knock like the postman. You vow that your life has to change, that you have drunk your last vodka and smoked your last Marlboro. You think of all those places you’ve never been to and all those things you’ve never said and regretted the night you saw the sun come up face down in gutter outside of Green Square because you had indulged in the consumption a little too eagerly. You wonder why you can’t keep the party rolling for three days anymore and then you remember it is because you deleted a few key telephone numbers and moved states. You wonder what your liver looks like and you offer yourself 5/4-on that you are about to find out. You think about what is important to you.

We have all probably been closer to death than dealing with a vicious hangover that can’t be shaken by time, food or modern medicine but there has been no point in my life where I have ever felt death’s clammy breath more firmly on my neck. I have never been caught in a plunging plane, bloodies by a crashed car or had my mouth filled with the business end of a .22 caliber revolver.

It was around this time that I got to thinking about the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.

The clock was ticking, both literally and metaphorically.

In a literal sense, I needed to be at AAMI Park inside the hour. The Bulldogs were in town to take on a Melbourne Storm team resting the vast majority of their talent and I was naked, sick and cold. The odds seemed against me dragging my sorry ass back into public view. I was worn out from the night before and truth be told, I was worn out with the Bulldogs this year. But a win was on the cards and regardless of personal health, rugby league always comes first.

Metaphorically, the game seemed like the last throw of the dice. If the Bulldogs could not roll a Storm team resting Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Greg Inglis then the chances of the Bulldogs playing finals football seemed minimal. This was final call at the Last Chance Saloon and defeat would most likely see the dead carcass of the Bulldog taken out back, behind the outhouse, and left for vultures, maggots, Parramatta fans and other parasites to feast on.

I did, of course, get my sorry ass to the footy, scaring both a taxi driver and a McDonald’s employee with the whiteness of my complexion and the shortness of my speech. “What?” “Where?” “Smith Street” “Quarter Pounder” “Pull over”. “$36? Fuck you.”

In hindsight I shouldn’t have made the effort. The Bulldogs certainly didn’t bother to show up and neither did the referees and by half-time I sure as hell wished I was still in bed. The Bulldogs have oscillated between average and pitiful all season with the one exception being their demolition job on the Roosters. Their first half of the Storm match was down there with the worst Bulldogs performance of the year.

The Bulldogs, they could have been contenders instead of the bums they have become. On paper, Canterbury should be at the top of the table. They have two current rep players at half-back and hooker, the most underrated fullback of his generation in the one, two outstanding centres, a top notch prop and two international-standard workhorses in the backrow. A team with Kimmorley, Ennis, Patten, Morris J, Idris, Hannant, Stagg and Ryan should be rocking and rolling with the big boys. Instead they languish at the bottom of the ladder, anchored there by mediocrity, stupidity and an inability to execute attacking plays. Shamefully, Cronulla have won more games than the Bulldogs this year.

Canterbury have been ordinary this year but it is tough to fault their effort. The Bulldogs have played their fair share of useless bums this year who should never be allowed to wear the blue and white in first grade again: Mickey Paea, Ben Roberts, Dene Halatau, Blake Green, Buddy Gordon. The Bulldogs have had injuries though and there is only so much Kevin Moore can do when players are crippled and hurt on the sidelined. It is execution rather than effort, for the most part, though, that is hurting Canterbury the most.

It was effort that cost the Bulldogs against Melbourne it must be said, however. The Bulldogs were completely out-hustled in the first half. They allowed kicks to bounce, they didn’t back up, they didn’t respect the ball and they didn’t move forward in defence. Tackles were missed, communication was at a minimum and cohesion was nonexistent. With the season on the line against a depleted Melbourne team waiting to be beaten, the Bulldogs were down 23-0 at half-time. They got their act together in the second half but it was too late by then, particularly with the referees against them. Two more competition points slipped away as some young punk called Jaxson, sitting right behind my left ear, yelled the most annoying comments in such a god-awful piercing voice a depressed and hungover sports writer could ever hope to hear for two straight hours. I wished that kid a miserable existence followed by a painful death that involved the ripping out of the larynx. It was not pretty.

The Bulldogs managed to follow that performance with a shocking 19-12 loss to the Wests Tigers. The game was there to be won with the scores locked at twelve with less than ten minutes remaining when a lack of hustle and game smarts cost the team the game and any semblance of a late finals run. Despite the fact the Tigers were clearly working a field goal with seven minutes remaining, not a single Bulldog charged off the line to pressure Robert Lui, who calmly slotted the one with more time on his hands than Rip Van Winkle. Brett Kimmorley then blew the two remaining chances for the Bulldogs, getting caught with the ball on the last on occasion number one before missing an extremely kickable field goal from 30 metres out with no pressure on the final opportunity.

Chris Anderson once said that all he needed was a quality halfback and two top-notch front rowers and he could build a premiership winning team. Kevin Moore probably needs to heed those words of wisdom. Deep down, I believe, Moore knows this. That explains the exuberant chase of Trent Hodkinson and the signing of Aiden Tolman.

Those two aren’t going to be real helpful this year, however and help this year is what is required because the Bulldogs have an old halfback whose time has come, one quality prop who doesn’t want to be there and an array of other props who simply don’t cut the mustard when it comes to Ando’s criteria.

The fall of Brett Kimmorley has been sharp. He was outstanding for the Bulldogs in 2009, having a renaissance year and leading the Bulldogs to the preliminary final as well as winning back his Origin jersey. This year, however, he has tried hard but without success. His legs are tired, he is not getting the quality outside backs the ball quickly enough and he is second guessing his instincts. His football intelligence also appears to be waning. This will be his final year because, sadly, Brett Kimmorley is gone as a player.

Noddy hasn’t had it easy. The forward pack has been beaten in nearly every contest. He gets no assistance from the likes of Green and Roberts and even The General has had a down year running off his shoulder. Regardless, that doesn’t excuse his poor decision making and his inability to get the likes of Jamal Idris and Josh Morris, two playmakers, early and in space. The Bulldogs have no better option this year but if the club is to take advantage of this premiership window then they need a smart young halfback for 2011. The Bulldogs of 2010 have the same stink as the Sharks of 2009 about them and the most obvious tangent is Kimmorley: a team with an aging halfback, overachieving before entering free-fall.

Sadly, two wonderful Bulldogs are also struggling for form in what could be their final year at the club. Luke Patten has had the worst season of his career while Andrew Ryan is not the force he once was on the left fringe. Both have been rumoured to be off to England with Andrew Ryan allegedly on the outer with club management. It would be a tremendous shame to see two legends depart the club in such miserable circumstances when hopes were so high going into the year. I would never be so disrespectful to suggest either of these two should retire. Both have earned the right to leave on their own terms and both clearly remain in the best thirteen the Bulldogs have. Their performances this season, however, are a sharp reminder that their time in the blue and white, both of whom have been at Belmore nearly a decade, is drawing to a close. It is also a reminder that the two are, indeed, human.

The problems at prop forward, however, are the Bulldogs biggest concern. Ben Hannant may be a big star but he has big dollar signs in his eyes and he has been trouble for Canterbury this year. He has been solid on the field but he has been divisive off it. The rest of the Bulldogs front row rotation has been ordinary. Michael Hodgson is an honest toiler who deserves his spot but he is no superstar and is more a number three prop than a starter. Chris Armit, Jarrod Hickey, Mickey Paea, Tim Browne and Buddy Gordon just don’t make the nut as top graders and they certainly don’t make the nut for a team with premiership aspirations.

Throw the problems at prop and in the halves with a shocking year from Michael Ennis, a hooker who constantly overplays his hand and is unaware of his limitations as a ballplayer and a kicker, and the Bulldogs are rightfully whacking away with the competition losers.

The Bulldogs are playing hard but they are playing dumb and playing old. We are a club that is lost in transition, stuck between the past and the future, a transit lounge with few prospects of takeoff. The Bulldogs are worn out. I am worn out. There are not too many excuses and even fewer which stick. This should have been our year yet somehow the Bulldogs haven’t come up. And this may be how some great Bulldogs are sent out.

The Bulldogs may go on a late run and we all know what can happen when Canterbury sneak into the finals. This is what I will be hoping for, something akin to the miracle of ’98. I won’t be having my last on it though. The Bulldogs just have not shown enough to suggest they are sitting on something special.

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