This article was first written for and published for the NRL.com.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you support the Canterbury Bulldogs, Manly Sea Eagles, North Queensland Cowboys or the Parramatta Eels, it’s time to start planning for next year, because I can guarantee your team will not be playing finals football this year.
Some fans might tell me some of these teams are still “mathematically” a chance. My approach has always been the moment you start to use that word about a team’s finals chances, the season is over.
The reality is no matter how disappointing my team has been, I’ll still miss the NRL tremendously during the off-season. So I am very much a fan that tries to enjoy the footy for as long as I can, no matter how poor the performances on the field have been.
So if you support one of those teams, here are some ideas on how to survive the rest of the year – even if the way your team is performing is making that really hard.
Let’s be blunt. With the salary cap position the Bulldogs are in, it will be a challenging next couple of years at Belmore. We have already seen the impact of the previous regime on this year’s squad, with Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods leaving mid-season and the current regime making it very clear the Dogs will have very little wriggle room in the salary cap for the next couple of years.
But, Bulldogs fans should take comfort in the fact that CEO Andrew Hill, chairwoman Lynne Anderson, and coach Dean Pay have been very open about the club’s predicament.
This takes courage and should give Bulldogs fans some hope the club will be transparent about how it is operating. Additionally, they may only be words, but I know Lynne is exceptionally passionate about the Bulldogs and is very keen to restore the club to its former glory.
Lynne, Dean and Andrew face a challenge they did not create. As long as they support each other and commit to each other for the next five years, the club will be able to get the consistency it needs and each party will have the confidence to make bold and fearless decisions.
Manly Sea Eagles
You would like to think with the announcement of the penalties for the breaches of the salary cap earlier this year that Manly would be out of the woods. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Unlike other clubs caught rorting the cap, like the Eels and the Melbourne Storm, some of the Sea Eagles’ penalties are forward-looking and their cap will be affected for a couple more years.
Sea Eagles fans should take some comfort they do have a couple of very talented players in their squad. Daly Cherry-Evans is not going anywhere. The Trbojevic brothers continue to go from strength to strength and will continue to give Manly fans plenty of joy on the field.
What gives me additional comfort is Lyall Gorman – what I like to call a “fixer CEO”. He spent time at the Western Sydney Wanderers and also at the Cronulla Sharks following the ASADA investigation and bans, and had a very positive impact on these clubs – particularly the Sharks who ended up winning a premiership.
There’s plenty of things to fix at Manly and he is not worried about getting his hands dirty.
North Queensland Cowboys
The key to surviving this season is relishing every single moment you have left with Johnathan Thurston. It’s true, he has struggled since returning from that shoulder injury and is not the player he once was.
That doesn’t change the fact he is a champion on and off the field and one of the best rugby league players I have had the opportunity to watch. He is a once-in-a-generation player, so savour every single moment.
Perhaps next year the Cowboys will bounce back, particularly if Michael Morgan is given the licence to steer the ship.
The thing that should keep Eels fans going is also the thing that has caused me the greatest concern this year. It’s that, I really don’t know what’s the matter with Parramatta.
Sure, the Eels have had some injuries, but what we are seeing on the field is a far cry from what we saw in the trial against the Newcastle Knights and the first 20 minutes in round one against the Panthers.
I’m hopeful that with the squad we have that next year we will see dramatic improvement and that this year will just be a blip on the radar.
But don’t fool yourself by wishing the remainder of this season away, because I guarantee you’ll be begging the footy to return as soon as it concludes in October.