Super League fans down under rejoice! Last night it was confirmed we'll be seeing Wigan Warriors and...
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It used to be when asked the question: "which club would you want playing for your life?" The immediate response was: "Easy, Canterbury." It didn't matter if you had blue and white running through your veins or if you despised the club, the answer was the same. Begrudgingly given by the latter, but ultimately given none the less.
Not so long ago, there were two types of league supporters, Bulldogs fans or fans who wished their club had the amazing fighting spirit on the field and the harmony in the boardroom, that typified the Belmore-based club.
It didn't seem to matter how many stars were missing from the line-up, how many injuries occurred during the game, or bad calls from the officials, or how far behind the team was, or how little time was left to win a game, some how, some way, Canterbury managed to overcome adversity and reign supreme, leaving rival fans in disbelief wondering "how the hell did that happen?
It didn't take long for opposing teams to realise they were up against a club that was never beaten on the field until the fulltime whistle had blown and the ball was dead..."very dead" when it came to playing Canterbury.
And nothing emphasised it more than the merging of wild elation and enormous relief which came to rival teams and their fans after they'd held off a Canterbury team that was storming back at them.
It was this aura which defined Canterbury, something intangible that was the envy of rival clubs and was more priceless than a Mastercard with no limit. It made young footballers gravitate to the club. It seemed everybody wanted to play for the Berries, for the Bulldogs. And why not? They were the entertainers, the family club who looked after their own better than the other clubs.
Former international Dean Pay is a case in point. He is your classic pin-up boy for the term: "you can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy." Constant homesickness had Dean returning to Dubbo several times and it was the nurturing of the likes of the late Peter Moore and former lone-serving official Paul Tycehurst, which saw Dean Pay and others with difficulties adapting to city life, carve out distinguished careers with Canterbury.
The tough as teak forward is held in high regard at Parramatta where he finished his NRL career, but hand on his heart, he will proudly tell you "I'm a Bulldog".
No doubt Artie Beetson would claim Dean Pay is another reason why the Bulldogs are out of order with the release of a T-shirt showing a Bulldog giving it to a Rooster, and carrying the term "Bred not Bought".
Disappointedly big Artie, as magnificent a player as he was, has completely missed the point. Pay, like Sonny Bill Williams, like Roy Asotasi and Luke Patten and the quartet of ex-Bulldogs at the Roosters, developed as footballers whilst at Canterbury. For goodness sake, Williams was fourteen or fifteen when he came into the system, Pay and Asotasi and the like, weren't much older.
Another day, another beat-up. Maybe "T-shirtgate" could have been avoided if the club went with the term "Made not Paid" instead. Gets the same message across.
This Sunday's board elections loom as a pivotal moment in the history of the once mighty club. And the fact the word 'once' precedes the word 'mighty', virtually demands that changes be made.
It is most alarming when you have the chairman George Peponis, come out and publicly declare that he refuses to work with board candidate Graeme Hughes. If that's not divisive then what is? Hughes, despite the treatment dished out to his brothers, is obviously willing to put personal pain and self-interest to the side, and play an active role in the restoration of the club at every level.
Anyone who believes the Canterbury Bulldogs are in great shape is either delusional or in denial, or both. Fortunately the situation whilst critical is not terminal. And perhaps the healing process can begin with the good doctor, George Peponis, self-administering a concoction of an olive branch with a spoonful of sugar to rid his system of any bitterness towards Hughes or any other candidate whom he sees as a threat to his position.
Before casting their vote, each paid-up member of the football club should pause and ask themselves: Is this candidate in it for the right reasons? Willing to make the tough calls knowing short term pain will mean long term gain, in much the same vein as the Broncos club? Will always put club before self in every decision they make? Wants to sees unity from the chairman and CEO right down to the strapper for the under sixes? If the answer is "yes" in every case, then give that man a vote, then give the man a new and celebrate if he is elected, because these are the people you want.
Born Sunday February 17, 2008, a healthy Canterbury Bulldog (the word 'Canterbury' must be returned forthwith) weighing 10kg of cerebral matter, and 80cm long of out-stretched arm for a warm handshake. Both guardians (board members) and family (supporters) are rejoicing with the prospect of a new beginning.
That's the notice all Canterbury supporters want to read in the papers come Monday!