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Josh Reynolds encapsulates the Bulldogs’ culture

It was Good Friday 2016 and the Bulldogs were completing a 42-12 demolition job on South Sydney at ANZ Stadium.

 

Late in the game, Josh Reynolds took a shot at field goal. Too say it was a poor attempt would be too kind – it was shocking, hardly airborne and slightly embarrassing for the kicker.

 

However, with the Dogs holding a massive advantage, it was nothing more than a blip on an otherwise brilliant day.

 

What intrigued me more was a nearby South Sydney supporter who let rip with a verbal barrage at Reynolds. I couldn’t grasp it in the context of the game. Your team is way behind, Reynolds was just trying to put a cherry on top and you abuse him for missing a field goal?

 

It has been a noticeable trend in recent years, people have embraced any opportunity to put the boot into the little terrier far too eagerly. His name has resurfaced recently as the Bulldogs have struggled through some difficult challenges and his position in the playing roster has been questioned.

 

The Canterbury board made a firm stand midway through 2016, making it clear the squad needed immediate regeneration and the future of it would be on their terms, not coach Des Hasler’s.

 

Steve Mortimer made an error, speaking too candidly and openly outside the boardroom and club legend Terry Lamb called for greater understanding of the Dogs’ culture, which he felt the coach and some players were failing to grasp and apply in their performances.

 

The culling of Tony Williams finally unshackled some wasted money, rumours of player movements were rife and for the first time in living memory, the Bulldogs had become a club of infighting, disharmony and angst.

 

As a fan it made me sick. The club always, if anything, remained tightly knit in times of trouble, something of which the entire supporter base is proud.

 

As a result, the end of 2016 was ugly, as was the start to this season, with two straight losses. However, with Matt Frawley, Reynolds and Moses Mbye now working as an effective, speedy and aggressive trio, the team has climbed into the top eight.

 

Whatever happens to Des, things look grim for the Dogs. Hanging onto the edge of the eight might be the best case scenario for the blue and whites. Time will be determinate, yet the increased structure, improved kicking game and composure Frawley brings in attack has gone some way to solving the attacking deficiencies.

 

But the most disturbing thing throughout the saga has been criticism of Josh Reynolds. A polarising figure in the game, there appears to be two camps, both with ingrained schools of thought when it comes to the little champ.

 

One school sees him as somewhat thuggish and aggressive, perfectly reflective of the club, who has tripped, grappled and fought his way to completely underserved State of Origin selections in 2013 and ’14.

 

The alternative line is a belief that Reynolds is the player every club needs. The guy who bleeds for the cause, understands culture better than most due to his upbringing in the area and despite not being blessed with the skills of the elite, someone who plays an aggressive and intense style of game to compensate.

 

For quite a few years now, there is a little joke doing the rounds about Reynolds. A few refer to Reynolds as the ‘next Immortal’, a sarcastic reference to that lack of pure football artistry that someone like the young Nathan Cleary or Johnathan Thurston possesses.

 

The moniker, ‘Prince of Belmore’, which was thrown around earlier in the week, after the masterclass he produced on Good Friday, added a little fuel to their jibes.

 

I take Reynolds far more seriously than that. To me, he will always be the nearest thing to Terry Lamb that the Bulldogs have had and may ever have again. Watching Reynolds in isolation, his energy, chase and doggedness are clear.

 

When an effort is required, he is there. He has an accomplice these days in gun forward Josh Jackson, who also turns up at the 11th hour to force defenders into touch after a 40-metre chase. My wife gets sick of me jumping up with Foxtel remote in hand and pausing to show the origins of those chases, emotionally articulating how important the one percenters and effort are in the game.

 

Those chases are symbolic of what Reynolds is all about. When he drifts across field picking up runners on the inside or jumps out of the line to take on a man generally far bigger than him, he looks good. When a support player is needed or a forlorn kick-chase requires someone to stay with it, despite its limited chance of success, he is your man.

 

These are the things he brings. As the Dogs’ structure and attacking formation in the opposition 20 has been rightfully criticised and scrutinised, Reynolds, as a five-eighth, has taken some hits. However, those problems are not of his making.

 

Josh Reynolds will never be the calm, composed half who steers the team – he is manic, opportunistic and inspirational. And having Frawley alongside him the last few weeks has shown two things.

 

Firstly, Reynolds is outstanding when given reign to float around the field, looking for moments to affect the contest. And secondly, the issues with the Canterbury attack lie more with the lack of a genuine distributor in the red zone.

 

Frawley’s presence has allowed Reynolds to be himself, a foil. That’s what he has and always wills be.

 

The Bulldogs’ pursuit of Aaron Woods appears a done deal, but it would be a mistake. Hearing murmurs that Reynolds might be moved on, has made me sick to the stomach. In the last few weeks Reynolds has shown his wares and his skillset. And you don’t play 128 first-grade games, score 39 tries and play representative football without real talent.

 

But in order for a player’s talents to be truly exposed and appreciated, they must have a clear role in the team that suits their skillset. In Reynolds’ case, Hasler has tried to force something out of him that just isn’t there.

 

In the last month it has been nice to see Reynolds back to his old ways, providing a foil, sniffing around and making things happen. It’s what he was born to do. He certainly won’t be the next Immortal, but he’s Josh Reynolds, a real Bulldog who I dearly love.

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