No easy way out for struggling Bulldogs
TERRY Lamb and his Sydney Bulldogs teammates called a crisis meeting during the 1995 season, desperate to get themselves out of a rut that saw them staring down the barrel after a minor premiership and grand final appearance the previous year.
A round 21 loss to the Auckland Warriors at Parramatta Stadium had the Bulldogs sitting seventh and a real chance of missing the playoffs. It was their last loss of 1995.
The Bulldogs went on to win their final two home-and-away games before defeating St George, Brisbane, Canberra and Manly-Warringah to clinch an unlikely title.
It was their first premiership since 1988, which was the last of four titles in the '80s, starting with the triumphant "Entertainers” side of 1980.
The day a modest seven-year drought ended in 1995, looking up at Lamb as he held the trophy aloft was a defeated, devastated Des Hasler - the Sea Eagles' hooker.
Hasler's 2017 Bulldogs held a similar crisis meeting on Monday in a bid to turn their horror season around. Canterbury slumped to their fourth successive loss on the weekend against the Penrith Panthers and sit 14th on the ladder, just two points ahead of the battling Wests Tigers.
It has been 13 long years since their last premiership. It's a long time between drinks for most clubs - an eternity for one that expects and demands success.
Fans don't just want the heads of coach Hasler and chairman Ray Dib. Some have even called for a boycott of Monday's home clash at ANZ Stadium against the Dragons, such has been the downward spiral of the Belmore club.
The Bulldogs will lose beloved five-eighth Josh Reynolds and chief executive Raelene Castle at the end of 2017. And against the wishes of many within the Bulldogs, the club re-signed Hasler to a new deal earlier in the year despite the team struggling to score points, let alone win games of footy.
The biggest reason for the Bulldogs' struggles and the subsequent unrest is more evident than ever - and just as far away from a fix.
Hasler's Dogs are a football team so set in their plodding, laborious, Neanderthal ways that they refuse to see the fact that they are the least imaginative team in the NRL.
There's no easy way out for Canterbury.
If Hasler was the problem before, who is to blame when he's re-signed to a new contract even when their greatest-ever player - Steve Mortimer - says he'd rather quit the club than watch Hasler coach his Dogs for another second?
You can't blame Castle, because she's gone too.
Dib is the undisputed ruler at Canterbury. The chairman is the one defending Hasler while the team flounders (which, of course, he has to do).
There's nobody else to blame except Dib and Hasler.
"They're calling for Des' head. They are calling for my head,” Dib told Fairfax Media.
"They have every right to, mate. I understand the frustration, I really do. All I can be is apologetic about it.
"The boys don't go out there to lose. They don't train to lose. Des is so thorough. He doesn't leave anything unturned. Every detail he covers off. It's only halfway through the year. The year is not over - nowhere near over.
"People are saying 'you've lost Josh Reynolds, Raelene Castle has resigned as CEO' ... that's rugby league. It's happened before. We're always going to have adversity but it's about how you stick together.
"That's what the Bulldogs are renowned for, getting through the tough times. We just couldn't put it together [against Penrith] for some reason.”
Canterbury's one real hope on the field this season came when the untried Matt Frawley was parachuted into the side. Why not? It couldn't be any worse than what Moses Mbye, Michael Lichaa and company were dishing up.
But then something amazing happened. The Bulldogs found a spark.
On March 30, at a wet ANZ Stadium, they upset the Broncos with Frawley on debut at halfback.
Apparently that was all the club needed to give Hasler a reprieve. With Frawley in the team, Canterbury won three of their next four. But as the weeks have gone on, the young playmaker has been sucked into the abyss like the rest of them. They've now lost four straight.
Hasler supporters will argue until they're red in the face that his record speaks for itself. Two premierships at Manly and two more grand final appearances at Belmore - both losses. Unfortunately, they never looked like winning either of those deciders. Hasler refuses to change his style, which only allows the Bulldogs to go so far.
As Nelly once said: "Two is not a winner and three nobody remembers.”
While every other team has evolved (even Craig Bellamy's Melbourne), Canterbury play more like prehistoric dinosaurs on the verge of extinction than a professional rugby league side in the fastest, hardest competition on the planet.
Bulldogs fans have had enough.
On Channel Nine's coverage on Sunday, Peter Sterling was asked about Hasler. The great half, regarded as one of the most respected minds in rugby league, said that Hasler had been a great coach but just as importantly, Sterling said Des had had plenty of great players at his disposal over the journey.
The Bulldogs need a fresh start.
Whether that means Hasler's demise is anyone's guess, because it almost certainly won't be Dib's.
And the difference between the 1995 Bulldogs team and this one?
Almost everything. And Hasler is still on the losing end.