Disgruntled Dragons fans the game's biggest 'crisis merchants'

"Oust Doust", "Down with Brown", "Sack Farrar", The Price Is Not Right".

It's hard to recall a season when Dragons fans have ever really been satisfied but the ugly scenes at Jubilee Oval after Sunday's 38-0 loss to Canterbury as so-called supporters gathered around the tunnel to target players was one of the all-time lows at a venue that's had more than its share of drama over the years.

The abuse, which was so venomous police felt the need to intervene, took place in the same spot as the infamous "bucket of spit" incident of which referee Steve Clark was a victim after the Dragons lost the 1998 semi-final to the Bulldogs.

Canberra players once ran straight from their team bus on to the playing field at Kogarah because their safety could not be guaranteed at the height of Super League war, while officials needed security at home games after being subjected to death threats over a proposed merger with Sydney Roosters in 1995.

Neo-Nazi Ross "The Skull" May was banned from attending matches so he used to watch from the trees outside the ground, while the Save Our Saints group turned games at Kogarah into protest rallies against CEO Geoff Carr and the board.

Since the joint venture with Illawarra in 1999, chief executive Peter Doust and coaches Andrew Farrar, Nathan Brown and Steve Price have all had to endure fans on the hill with banners demanding their heads.

Incoming CEO Brian Johnston, a favourite son of the club during his playing career and the current St George Illawarra chairman, received a taste of what he can expect at Sunday's match, while fans in the grandstand let coach Paul McGregor know how they felt about his team's performance.

Most people in those roles accept that goes with the job but it's almost unprecedented for supporters to turn on their own players the way that some Dragons fans did after Sunday's loss, which ended their top-four hopes just one week before the finals.

At least eight other groups of supporters wish their team had been in the same position, let alone having sat at the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder until round 16 and been in the top four after 22 of the 24 rounds so far.

James Graham, who was lauded at the start of the season for the hard-nosed attitude he had brought to the club, had a Dragons scarf angrily thrown at him, while star recruit Ben Hunt was another target but all of the players copped it.

Some wanted to respond directly to the fans who were hurling the expletive-laden insults but they were warned not to as no amount of reasoning was likely to calm their fury.

That advice appears to have been well founded, given the reaction to post-match comments from fullback Matt Dufty, which were posted on Twitter by Big League editor David Piepers.

"Without being rude, they need to wake up to themselves," Dufty said. "We've made the finals. Instead of throwing criticism they could show us some support. We try not to focus on external noise but it's hard not to when it's your own fans."

Dragons second-rower Tariq Sims.
Dragons second-rower Tariq Sims. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

What those responsible for the vitriol may not have realised is that some of the players' families, including children, were waiting inside the tunnel for them to come from the field after presentations to Jason Nightingale and the daughter of Lance Thompson, who sadly passed away last week.

Members of St George Illawarra's Holden NRL Women's Premiership team were also in the tunnel after having been introduced to the crowd before the game and some players were in shock at the treatment dished out to their male counterparts.

"I wonder if they will react like this if we play badly," one player said. Another replied: "I didn't expect this from Dragons fans, maybe some other clubs".

And that's what is so shocking about the hostile reaction to a loss made worse by a mounting injury toll, which included a dislocated elbow likely to have ended Nightingale's career and a hamstring tear which forced centre Euan Aitken from the field after just 18-minutes.

Parramatta and North Queensland were widely tipped as premiership contenders before the start of the season but their fans haven't reacted the same way towards players who were effectively involved in a wooden spoon battle last Friday night.

The Bulldogs are another club with a passionate supporter base who have high expectations for their team every season but even when they were trailing 22-0 in the first half of the round 15 match at Belmore Oval against Gold Coast their supporters didn't boo the players.

In contrast, many of the fans who turned on the Dragons players were writing off the team's chances at the start of the season but after riding the wave of success they now feel let down.

History would suggest they are the game's biggest "crisis merchants".

 

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NRL or NRL.com.