A question of culture

Once upon a time, though not so very long ago, a man named Chris Anderson told the rugby league world that he was going to teach Cronulla how to win. He told us that he was going to do away with the idea that near enough is good enough. He told us that we shouldn?t be content to merely make the eight, and that anything less than a premiership was an abject failure. In short, he told us that he was going to install a ?winning culture?.

Now when Anderson took over the Sharks in the summer of 2002, the team didn?t actually need much tinkering. At the end of 2001, Cronulla was a high performance street machine capable of riding with the best in the league. It needed only some rims and perhaps some fuzzy dice to make it worthy of a formula one berth. Cronulla was ready. They had the players in place to succeed. Anderson however, didn?t seem to understand this. He removed vital components with reckless abandon, and gave little thought to the eventual reassembly. He looked Enzo Ferrari straight in the eye and told him he knew better. He didn?t.

With Anderson at the helm, the Sharks were reduced to little better than a Harold Matthews Cup side. (My apologies to anyone currently playing Harold Matthews who finds this comment insulting.) They staggered from apathetic shellacking to apathetic shellacking. This once proud team became the laughing stock of the league. Opposition fans would chant ?Winning Culture? as their favourite teams ran in try after try. The club?s dramas were splashed repeatedly across back pages everywhere, amidst headlines littered with terms like, ?Toothless,? ?Crisis,? and ?Saga.? Fans rebelled, and left in droves as their favourite players were cut loose, and replaced by bench players from the Illawarra Cup. Finally in late 2003, Steve Rogers and Barry Pierce saw their futures laid out before them. Toyota Park rolled with lifeless tumbleweeds, as Brett Kimmorley rolled grubber after grubber into the corner for Jarred and Ben Anderson to misread and ignore. Both the CEO and the football manager woke up screaming, and the axe finally fell on the career of Chris Anderson.

Flash forward to 2004. Anderson is gone and the scars are beginning to heal. Hope is returning, and with it, so many of the formerly disillusioned fans who are slowly beginning to believe again. The new coach is a name we know, and a man we can trust. A man who will take responsibility for ironing out the many kinks that still exist from his predecessor?s reign of terror. Not so long ago, the coach of the Sharks would have blamed any loss on bad refereeing, before claiming that a thirty point drubbing was merely a part of his master plan. The new coach, a man named Stuart Raper, is willing to admit that problems exist, and it?s obvious to Sharks fans everywhere that he?s doing all he can to fix them. This for us, is a major component of our new culture.

To the casual observer, the only major difference in this year?s Sharks side is Nigel Vagana. The team still has problems that need rectifying, and are still on the lower half of the ladder. But to the true Sharks fans, the differences are obvious. The team is playing with a lot more passion and a lot more heart. They?re looking like they want to win, and it?s this new attitude more than anything else, that will bring the fans, and the faith back to the club. Even the most hardcore Sharks fan will tell you that there?s still problems. Our wings are weak, and our marker defence leaves something to be desired, but these are very fixable problems. There?s hope, which is what was missing for so much of last season. Under Anderson the Sharks may have had a ?winning culture,? but there was nothing to believe in. No reason to have faith in the side. No reason to believe that anything would change for the better, only fear that it was going to get worse. Under Anderson, going to the football was a painful chore which left you depressed, angry, and suicidal. It was a culture no one but Anderson wanted. It was a culture without hope, or the promise of something better. It was a culture of mediocrity, of disrespect, and of darkness. If that?s what constitutes a winning culture, then I never want to win.

Previously posted in the Forums Sevens in the Front Row forums.