Things have reached a tipping point at Belmore and if things aren’t fixed quickly then a lacklustre playing squad will be joined by more off-field turmoil and boardroom issues.
When news broke that chairman Ray Dib and the board had made the decision to part ways with head coach Des Hasler, who had been at the club for six seasons, the Bulldogs took one final lurch towards complete absurdity on the back end of a terrible 2017 season.
Missing the finals hurts
Missing the finals was a huge blow, especially for such a proud club that had made them in every year since 2011, when they missed out by one place.
Not making the finals in 2011 saw coach Kevin Moore dismissed during the season with Jim Dymock filling in before high-profile Manly Sea Eagles’ head coach Hasler was head-hunted and made the move. With Hasler at the helm, the Bulldogs finished at the top of the ladder in the regular season, claiming a historic Minor Premiership before losing in the Grand Final to Melbourne.
Over the coming years, there were two qualifying appearances, a semi-final and another Grand Final defeat. The one consistent was finals footy, as Hasler turned the Bulldogs into a regular contender.
The good times would not last and, after a disastrous 2017 campaign, the Bulldogs sacked Hasler and are moving in another direction. That alone isn’t such an issue. Clubs sack coaches all the time and both parties generally just move on with things. The issues underlying at the Bulldogs though, make this just one small facet.
There was a two-year contract extension handed to Hasler in the season despite the obvious concerns amongst the fan base. To part company at the end of the season and then claim the deal was non-binding is absurd. At best, the saga shows a lack of foresight and planning on the club’s behalf. At worst, it almost looks as if the Bulldogs and chairman Dib strung Hasler along, offered him what they thought would keep him calm and then took the first opportunity post-season to swing the axe and potentially put themselves back in tenable positions before any board elections.
Maintaining power all important
Dib seemed unlikely to retain his role at the elections, so the move now appears motivated by the desire to maintain a position of power rather than a careful, thought out strategy for a change of coaching style. Dib has backed the club’s statement, saying the agreement signed with Des was a non-binding contract and that the cash-strapped club won’t be hit with a big bill for the decision.
It appears that Hasler and his camp disagree with that interpretation and a long, drawn-out court case could be on the cards, with further mud likely to be slung at both parties and the club probably coming out worse for wear.
That the decision to part company with Hasler comes after letting him lead the massive overhaul of the playing roster is also baffling. The club has committed serious dollars to new recruits Kieran Foran and Aaron Woods with the understanding that Hasler would be the man in charge. While Dib said he was confident that the pair would still be turning up at Belmore, you could hardly blame either player for second-guessing their decision.
There were already suggestions that Woods was having doubts about whether he’d made the right decision to leave the Tigers, with a newfound fondness for Ivan Cleary suggesting he would be happier to stay with Wests Tigers.
On top of concerns that Woods and Foran may renege on their deals, the club’s salary cap remains a mess and plenty of high-profile players are being shopped around behind the scenes in a bid to be cap compliant for 2018. Obviously, if Foran or Woods backed out, that would result in some serious cap relief. But that would come after cult hero Josh Reynolds has moved to the Tigers and club captain James Graham has moved to the Dragons, with rumours suggesting the Bulldogs will still pay a huge chunk of his contract next season in a bid to sweeten the deal.
Bulldogs fire sale
The club are thought to be chasing suitors for Josh and Brett Morris, Greg Eastwood and several others, though the club did laughably raise some interest in signing Penrith captain Matt Moylan when rumours of his desire to leave the Panthers began circling.
The Bulldogs are currently operating without a head coach, a chief executive or a club captain, a seriously concerning state of affairs for the Belmore faithful. Andrew Hill will step into the role of chief executive in December after his duties with the World Cup but he must have grave doubts over what sort of organisation he is joining.
The board lost faith in Hasler but Bulldogs fans are starting to feel the same way about the board themselves, and in particular Dib.
With seemingly so little planning and no real blueprint for moving forward, the board look inept and clueless. They look like they are trying to appease the fans and play to public opinion by sacking Hasler.
Suggestions that Raelene Castle, one of Hasler’s biggest supporters within the club, fell out with Dib over the future of the coach do little to paint Dib in a favourable light. Most experts do still believe that he will retain his position within the club.
If he does that, then the onus then will be on Dib to orchestrate a strong, stable blueprint to move forward with, and that will involve a lot more than simply hiring a new coach.
A playing roster will need to be salavaged from the current salary-cap mire and the faith of the fans will need to be renewed. The elections in February will make for fascinating viewing for the neutrals, who will sit back and watching the latest instalment of the Bulldogs drama.
Do you think Ray Dib is the man to lead the Bulldogs forward? Who should be the next head coach of the Bulldogs? Let us know in the comments below.
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