Culture is the buzz word in Australian sport at the moment. This team wins because they have a good culture. This team loses because they have a problem with culture. And one team who clearly has an ongoing culture problem is the NSW Blues.
After yet another unsuccessful State of Origin campaign, this one lost from an almost unloseable position, the magnifying glass has once more been brought out to try and discover why one horse has lost an apparently even two-horse race 11 out of the last 12 races. It’s almost enough to call in the stewards.
Stories have begun emerging about bad behaviour in the Blues camp in the lead up to Origin 2 and 3, all supposedly hinting at a rotten culture in the NSW camp.
So concerned was the NSWRL about these rumours that they took the extraordinary step of issuing a statement refuting the claims. The lady doth protest too much we think.
Firstly, perennial bad boys Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson were allegedly inebriated before Game 3, spending most of the Friday before the match at a local watering hole, the Lennox Point Hotel, near where the Blues were in camp.
Allegedly, the duo were “acting like clowns” but the NSWRL statement strongly refutes this saying the players “were not affected” and they trained “strongly” the next morning.
The statement makes no comment though about Dugan and Ferguson, who have a history of bad behaviour, spending up to eight hours in that type of activity five days out from one of the most important games of their career. It is hardly great preparation for an elite athlete – a fact the NSWRL neglects to mention.
For the record Ferguson had a quiet match in Game 3 while Dugan was among NSW’s best and almost hauled the Blues back into the match with a stunning piece of skill to score early in the second half.
The second allegation is extraordinary. Allegedly (again) NSW prop Andrew Fifita was told by Blues coach Laurie Daley that he would not be starting in Game 3 with David Klemmer being preferred and Fifita coming off the bench.
Supposedly Fifita reacted so badly to this news that Daley was forced to back down and allowed the big Sharks prop to start. The NSWRL denies this outright.
“It is entirely false to suggest that on the morning of the game (or at any other time during the camp) Laurie had a conversation with Andrew in which he advised Andrew that he was starting on the bench” reads the statement.
Once more the statement is not dealing with the core issue – a player forcing the coach to change his selection decision.
The third allegation is that a car, hired by a journalist to cover the NSW camp, was vandalised. The inference was made that the vandalising was carried out by Blue players. Again the NSWRL refutes this and calls on “anyone in possession of information which supports an allegation of criminal conduct against one or more of our players” should “immediately report the information to the NSW Police”.
No matter how many of the allegations are proven to be true or false, the fact that the NSWRL has been forced to issue the statement shows that there are deep issues within the Blues camp and the culture is anything but healthy.
The situation is so toxic that Blues legend Peter Sterling is thinking of quitting his advisory role with the squad, a position he only took up this year.
Responding to the deluge of criticism, Sterling said: “It has a way of maybe beating a little bit of passion out of you unfortunately.
“When you lose you put yourself in that situation and that’s the nature of the beast. Whether I want to be a part of that beast again I’m not quite sure.
“If you lose you open yourself up to the slings and the arrows. I’ve just been disappointed with some of the slings and some of the arrows.”
The problem with NSW is many of the wounds are self-inflicted.