Treachery in the Capital

Filed in Other by on December 8, 2010

Neil Henry has betrayed Canberra. He has acted in the manner of a cheap deserter, selling out a town he called home for a few bucks and a Christmas ham. It is as simple as that. And he will never be forgiven for his treason and he will never be welcomed back. He is a pariah in Canberra today and will remain so long after his flesh has bid farewell to this world. You can count the number of well-wishers Henry has on the fingers of a butcher’s hand.

Those in Canberra and all who hold in their heart a degree of fondness for the Raiders can only hope that Henry’s coaching career turns out to be as mediocre as his playing days and as bereft of achievement as his mentoring has been to this point. And even total failure won’t be enough to heal the scars of having a knife stuck firmly between the shoulder blades only moments after turning your back.

The damage done by Henry’s gutter betrayal will be as long lasting as it will be heavy.  One need only know Canberra to know our last sentence is a truism of the most divine order.

Your author, of course, knows Canberra. Many cold winters have been spent in the capital and the odd hazy summer as well. The Officers Club, with its penchant for high-brow entertainment and keenness for comfort, has kept me warm on quite a few evenings and probably more. Many years have been spent running amok and living in sin – or at the very least moral purgatory – in Old Canberra Town. Many evenings were spent playing politics with the best and the worst of them, some in the sanctity of the pulpit, others in the filth of the gutter. Daybreak was occasionally viewed through the smoky fog of Mooseheads or Lot 33. I took the midnight train going anywhere. I have watched Black Opal’s from the commentary box, Grand Finals from the luxury box and St. Byrel from behind the boxes. Senators and lawyers, poor credit punks and cheap hustlers, they all know how to get word down the wire if they have been around Canberra long enough.

My qualifications for assessing Canberra are sound and the simple evaluation is that, for the most part, it is a pleasant town. It is a town with minimal crime, plenty of money and bushland merging effortlessly into development. Suburbs are overly planned and space is not particularly at a premium. Excitement is forsaken for security. And every second person seemingly works for the government and there is no shortage of punters there for the old university degree. There lies the hook. Most people in Canberra do not identify with being Canberran. It is a town where few inhabitants seem to be born and even fewer call home. It is a transitional town, one to stop by before returning home or leaving to make one elsewhere.

This, to some extent, explains the nature of Canberra sports and in particular efforts by sporting organisations to build a fanbase. The fact that few people call Canberra home ensures a sturdy and viable fanbase is hard to build, the transitional nature of the city acting as a current that erodes the banks. The Cannons couldn’t build a sustainable fanbase. Neither could the Cosmos or Canberra City. The Comets lasted three seasons. The North Melbourne Kangaroos tried to setup shop but quickly abandoned those plans. There has been talk for many years that the Brumbies will move to Melbourne. Even the Canberra Raiders have gone through lean patches.

The result of this tends to be that there is very little backing for teams going poorly and for teams who are successful, wide support is fleeting. The Cannons would sell-out the AIS Arena as they dominated the NBL in the late eighties. Yet just over a decade later, they were dead. When the Raiders were the best team in rugby league, 20,000 plus people would regularly fill Bruce Stadium. Over the last decade, when the Brumbies have been the toast of the town, the Raiders have been lucky to get 12,000. Now that the Brumbies aren’t winning titles, the chardonnay drinking ho-ho boys who pay to watch the spectacle are far fewer in number. That is just the way things are in Canberra. Get behind a winner, leave behind a loser. There is a core of loyal adoration who will be there for the wine and who will be there for the water but generally the love of a Canberra team can be measured on its recent form. Winners are trendy and the trendy are always well looked-after.

Neil Henry, doubtfully, realizes the seriousness of the damage he has done to the game in Canberra. Or he does and just couldn’t care less. In abandoning the team who gave him his first shot at head coaching only one year and three games into a three year deal, Henry not only revealed his inner-Machiavellian and his distaste for loyalty, he showed a total lack of sensitivity for the fragility of the Raiders position in the NRL universe.

The Raiders, once the toast of the rugby league town, are now nothing more than the team of an undesirable outpost. It is not a big money town in terms of either drawing or funding. The cold weather, always an irritation, has become a major cross to bear for administrators who, in the age of professionalism, have struggled to attract big-name players who would prefer to be near the beach. Essentially, the Raiders have to be junkyard dogs, fighting and scrapping for everything. And that is just to survive. The Raiders have to appeal to loyalty and have to hold up scrappers like Alan Tongue and have to re-sign exciting youngsters like Todd Carney. If they don’t, they will not have enough air to breathe. Support will dissipate and that will be that. And Neil Henry leaving certainly has a negative spin for the perception of the Raiders.

Neil Henry, seemingly, does not care though. He does not care that the hope and stature he gave the Raiders has been smashed. He does not care that he has further eroded the ability of the Raiders front office to keep and attract talent by perpetuating the notion that Canberra is not the place for a winner. He does not care that he has kicked a loyal fanbase square in the groin. He does not care about rugby league in Canberra or the Raiders or the players.

Neil Henry is about Neil Henry. That is the only way to describe the actions of a man who reneged on a deal whilst lying to his players and his fans about his intentions.

There is no doubt he should be fired immediately and the reins handed straight to David Furner. There is no point in keeping Henry around. The stench of death will soon repulse the players, who will use Henry’s disloyalty and leaving as an excuse for underperformance. He should be thrown out of town without even the time to collect his belongings.

In the end, the most puzzling notion to grasp in this whole sorry parable of treason is the totally unwarranted demand for Henry’s services. With what he has achieved as both a player and a coach, how is Neil Henry in such high demand? He failed to do anything with the Raiders in his only season in charge. He has not displayed any particularly wonderful insight into the game of rugby league nor has he exhibited anything to suggest he gets the best out of his players. His only claim to fame appears to be that he was well liked as the assistant coach of Queensland. That hardly justifies how he became the hottest girl at the party. And the Cowboys will soon find out that the hottest girl at the party has a hard time demanding loyalty and quite often has the clap.

Strong words don’t matter much now though. The deal, of course, is done. Brutus has sunk the blade in. May you live in strange and uncomfortable times. Et tu, Brute. Only when the circle is complete and Henry is dismissed as the Cowboys coach will the right words be found by Raiders fans.

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