Shane Flanagan’s observation last weekend that his Cronulla Sharks were struggling to cope with the ongoing ASADA investigations struck a chord with me. Admittedly I’ve never been through a situation quite like what Cronulla is experiencing at the moment but there have certainly been times where there was enormous pressure or scrutiny on our club for different reasons. I know how distracting that can be so I can only imagine what the Sharks are going through.
There were plenty of times when a teammate got himself into trouble away from the field – and that’s when the press swoops. It can even be the same when a high-profile player is going through extended contract negotiations. That can all take away from the focus of your performance. The problem is that it can impact upon the quality of your training; and from the sounds of it, that’s where Cronulla has really struggled this season.
When I was at the Broncos in the earlier days, Wayne Bennett was always very big on closing ranks, which doesn’t seem to be what Cronulla has done. Wayne would make sure no players read the papers, or watched any TV or sports reports on the news, just so that the focus could be wholly on what we were doing to prepare for the game. It was a case of closing ranks around a certain player or a situation.
I’ll never forget when the Melbourne Storm had their salary cap issues and walked forward as one across Olympic Park. That was their way of showing their solidarity and dealing with that situation. In the end they dealt with it quite well, considering.
For me, the toughest situation was probably in 2007 when I was involved in the contract negotiations that ultimately saw me leave the Broncos and join Penrith. It was a daunting situation because I was trying to focus on my football but constantly thinking about my future. As usual it was all played out in the media so again, for me it was about closing ranks and trying to shut out all the talk and speculation. I tried to focus on just turning up to training but that can be difficult when there is so much talk around your situation.
And the fact that I ended up leaving really added to the difficulty. There was that realisation as I started to lean towards Penrith that ‘wow, this is actually happening’. That’s when it becomes a real distraction. It can be hard to fathom, especially when you’ve got your family to think about and you know what you have to do. So I completely understand why the ASADA investigation is having such a profound impact on the Sharks. I just hope they can stand firm and get through it together.
It’s Heritage Round in the NRL this weekend as some of the game’s great rivals go head to head. With so many huge games coming up, it got me thinking about the rivalries I had during my career – and none stand out like those clashes with the Melbourne Storm when I was at the Broncos. They were always classic battles.
I think that in the early days the rivalry was primarily due to the close relationship we had with Craig Bellamy who was at the Broncos for so long before he joined the Storm. We got to enjoy some great success when Craig was our head trainer and there was that Broncos connection there too with the ownership of the club – Chris Johns was part of that and obviously John Ribot.
And of course there was the Queensland influence within the playing roster with the likes of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Greg Inglis and Cooper Cronk. That became a really strong rivalry and I’ll never forget the intensity of those Melbourne-Brisbane games. There was always that mentality in the lead-up knowing you had to lift out of respect for the Storm boys. We knew they were going to lift – especially Cameron – and over the years it became a really intense battle. We enjoyed some great experiences. The grand final win over them in 2006 was huge and the rivalry only intensified from that point.
And you knew it was a big week when you played the Storm because as much as those guys were close mates, the text messages would cease as you went into battle mode. Not much was given away at all. Even in the press you would try to limit what was said so that they couldn’t use it as ammunition to get back at you. They were great games and I expect we’ll see that mirrored across the NRL this weekend.