It seems life at the Bulldogs is still far from perfect, as the NRL club battles to keep current players happy, the problems arising after losing Willie Mason earlier in the off-season and experiencing several discipline issues with other players soon after.
While publically the players appeared to back the Bulldogs management in their stance against Mason, it’s looking increasingly likely that it was a forced front that wasn’t a true representation of the players morale. Luke Patten was the player to front the media soon after the Mason exit and explain it was Mason not the Bulldogs at fault – however, prior to this public statement and the eventual sacking, it seemed the majority of the Bulldogs players were backing their mate Willie Mason.
Speculation was rife over the weekend that Bulldogs club captain Andrew Ryan has spoken privately of his desire to return to the Parramatta Eels to escape the low morale of the Bulldogs in their current form and to like with old mate Nathan Hindmarsh in their final NRL years. If this proves to be true, it’s obvious the current state of affairs at the Bulldogs might be driving Andrew Ryan away from his once happy home. The other factor however might be the fact that Brian Smith no longer reigns over the Eels, the coach that continued to use Ryan as a substitute during his Eels days – with Michael Hagan at the helm it makes the possibility of the move more realistic.
The loss of Ryan for 2009 would be a huge blow for the struggling Bulldogs, already losing plenty of experience in recent times with the likes of Steve Price, Jonathan Thurston, Braith Anasta, Brent Sherwin, Mark O’Meley and Willie Mason all moving on. Price has grown an extra leg at the Warriors, Thurston is pressing his claims continually to be the best player in the world and the hard working Anasta is enjoying a senior role at the Roosters.
It seems that the players leaving Belmore are feeling much more engergized at new clubs and the old guard, including coach Steve Folkes might be due for a spring clean.
The timing of speculation isn’t ideal for the Bulldogs with the 2008 kick-off under 6 weeks away. In previous years they have responded admirably to critisim, however more recently they have buckled under the constant pressure and expectations of the media and their own fans.
The 2008 squad features a range of new faces which will take some time to gel; with the potential loss of Andrew Ryan and a high probability that Reni Matuia won’t be at the Dogs forever – there is some seriously tough times ahead for the Sydney based club. Ever growing pressure in the NRL market and new clubs such as the Titans are making it much more competitive for clubs and keeping their players happy is of the utmost importance.
It seems this time that the Bulldogs underestimated the pull that Willie Mason had amongst the players. He may have been a badboy at times, but his larrikin personality and years of experience may have been something that held the player group and the club in general together.