Grumpy Old Men

Grumpy Old Men

How quickly things can change in Rugby League, hey? On Sunday evening and Monday morning I’d been working furiously at a blog post addressing the last few weeks under Taylor and the dreadful performances we’d seen. I’m not going to lie, I’m actually a little surprised that the club moved as quickly as they did to sack Jason Taylor, but I think it’s something that needed to happen at some point this year if the performances did not match the talk. However I don’t write this blog to dissect whether or not the decision was a good one, or the state of the team as it stands. Instead, to address the statements of old Club ‘Legends’ in the media in the wake of their decision.

Without giving too much away, I work in a very small industry. An industry where everybody knows somebody, and as such, an industry where you can never burn your bridges. You never know where you will bump into an old colleague, or who will know who.  I find it fascinating to look then at Rugby League as an industry comparative to mine and observe the behaviour of Club Legends of Old, whichever club they may come from.

The fine line that is balanced in Rugby League is this ‘Jobs for The Boys’ approach.  In some areas, ex-players can be invaluable. The work that Dene Halatau and Paul Whaturia do with Wests Tigers Wellbeing and Education team, or the likes of Ben Ross and other players within Men Of League. I could rattle off dozens of examples of ex-players providing value to the game. The problem with this mentality then also shows at the other end of the scale – Where some ex-players are not held to the same account as others in any other professional industry would be. Where their welcomes are overstayed because you “have got to look after the boys”. Where ex-players are placed into roles they aren’t trained suitably for, for the sake of looking after one another. Where ex-players utilise their positions of influence to gain a voice through the media to launch a diatribe at those that have ‘wronged them’, because you know… The Boys.  Unfortunately for us as fans and Wests Tigers as a club, Paul Sironen and Ben Elias find themselves at this end of the spectrum.

In a media environment where the media are looking for clicks and outrage it is no surprise that they seek out these individuals for comment. The Editors and Directors at FoxSports, ESPN and major networks all know that these players are almost always willing to comment on situations of club turmoil and conflict.  The reality is though that for every Elias or Sironen, there are just as many players like Ettingshausen or Clyde that more often than not refrain from comment in times of turmoil for their individual clubs.

The problem with this though in a saturated environment with almost constant commentary on the game, the likes of Sironen and Elias aren’t providing any insight into the situation that we don’t already know. While Rugby League analysts and commentators and absolutely have their moments, there is often well thought out and delivered opinions available at any given time (even if we don’t like what they have to say). For example, while he infuriates a lot of people, Paul Kent has had some very sensible, well thought out opinions on various aspects of the game in the last few years. Having said that, he is far and away best when he doesn’t have to talk about the Cronulla Sharks, who must have done some vast wrongs to him over time. So what are these ‘Club Legends’ adding at this time? In truth, not a lot.

In the immediate time after our Coach loses his job, Elias takes his fifteen minutes to get in front of the camera and blast the board and more specifically Marina Go for the decision made to sack Jason Taylor, and yet in the same interview, when pressed on whether the club siding with the “Big 4” instead of Jason Taylor (irrespective of whether or not this is actually the case) was the right thing to do, he could not have been more glowing stating the four were “100% the right players to be building the club around”, supporting his nephew (unsurprisingly). Further to this, it’s not surprise that Elias does hold some resentment at the appointment of Marina Go who’s appointment saw the dilution of Balmain representation at board level. It’s not hard to see the bias there.

Then there’s Paul Sironen. On top of his many games for Balmain, I’m sure you know that Paul was involved within the club in various duties over the last decade which came to an end after the Brian Smith review at the start of 2015. Despite the decision being a recommendation from Brian, Siro took to vent on Facebook against J.T which of course the media latched on to. It’s fair to say that his own departure from the club, together with Curtis being moved on to Manly (Who by his own admission said he needed a change) has left a sour taste in Siro’s mouth. It’s disappointing to me that a grown Man would act in such an unprofessional manner – Jason had just lost his job. Whether all the decisions he made were right or wrong, I genuinely do believe that everything Jason did came from a genuine conviction that he thought he was doing the right thing by the club. To me, Jason always conducted himself in the media with the upmost professionalism. Siro’s comments lack decorum, and reflect poorly on himself (especially with a son still at the club).

The factionalism and politics of the Wests Tigers across all levels has held the Club back from excellence for some time. The comments of Elias and Sironen continue to drive this division and there is no doubt in my own mind that while these divisions continue to exist that the club will always be held back from it’s true potential.  These opinions and agendas are not only harmful to the club, the players at the club but more importantly are harmful to the fans. We all sit here frustrated, annoyed, saddened by these events as our club continues to struggle. The comments from these players only further rub salt into the wounds.

The unfortunate thing is that it is entirely possible for Club Legends to deliver messages of frustration and anger at a club in the media in a manner that also shows respect to the fan base. You only need to look at how Peter Sterling has addressed Parramatta’s various woes over the years to see this as fact. The point of my message here is not that Club Legends should be denied an opinion on the state of play of our beloved club, or that they should be denied media access altogether. It’s important that the history of our joint venture is noted and acknowledged.

Utlimately Paul and Ben are living history.  They are Legends of a bygone era. Neither have any ongoing involvement in any decision-making capacity at the club, and their words offer no more insight than you or I. There’s a fine line that is walked when media choose to interview Club Legends and unfortunately it would seem that some of our legends lack the nuances required to deliver their message effectively, showing passion and concern for the club instead of just falling to personal attacks and vendettas which further dilutes the value of the message which is a shame because frankly, the Club, and its fans, deserve better.