There can be no greater tribute paid to a Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs rugby league player than to suggest that he evokes memories of a club great.
That may actually be a factor behind the Bulldogs’ woes in recent years, with too few current players conjuring up comparisons with those men who wore the blue and white before them.
The stark reality for the Belmore based club is that they just don’t have the cattle right now, as they slowly but surely work their way out of salary cap mismanagement.
Hazem El Masri’s name will be remembered fondly when the next truly great goal kicker arrives at the club, the Bulldog’s next great halfback will live with constant comparisons to club legend Steve Mortimer and tough and gritty workhorses will always carry the legacy of Terry Lamb with them.
As such, when news broke last week of the Wests Tigers’ intention to allow Josh Reynolds to negotiate with other clubs, the kennel stirred.
Reynolds may very well be the most blue and white player in the competition. The way he played at Canterbury spoke not only of the toughness and grit so fundamental to the history of the club, he also played for the local people and understood them all.
From 2011-17, Reynolds compiled 138 games of quality and service for Canterbury. He represented New South Wales in 2013-14 in four State of Origin matches and made two appearances for City in clashes against Country.
However, more important than the numbers, it was the way Reynolds attacked the game and sometimes opposition players that elevated him from solid team member to leader and inspiration.
In short, the now 30-year-old chased everything, produced the big defensive plays when required and was Johnny on the spot when the moment arose.
Such moments led to 41 tries and a reputation for quality that belied his small 90 kilogram frame. Reynolds has been the nearest thing I have seen to the legendary Lamb in the blue and white.
Not blessed with near the same natural ball playing or instinctive skill as the former five-eighth of the 80’s and 90’s, Reynolds made up for that shortfall with sheer guts, will and determination.
With the Bulldogs stuck in recovery mode after former coach Des Hasler’s efforts to keep a potentially premiership winning side together via back-ended contracts, Reynolds received an offer too good to refuse for season 2018.
Despite the shock and disillusionment of many fans, he ventured off to the Tigers on an estimated $800,000 deal that frankly, appeared well in excess of his true market value.
Injuries have hampered his time at Wests and with just nine matches under his belt and an in-form Benji Marshall securing the number 6 jersey in the short term, the Tigers have made a smart and predictable move.
Reynolds’ four year deal still has two years to run yet the Tigers appear keen for it to be cut short and are happy to pay a portion of Reynolds’ salary should another NRL club be keen to take the pivot off their hands.
Expectantly, Bulldogs fans leapt at the news, calling for one of their favourite sons to return home. Coach Dean Pay played coy when asked about the prospect, stating that he was unaware of any discussions having taken place.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it, that he’s coming back,” Pay said.
With Kieran Foran injured once again, Lachlan Lewis languishing in Canterbury Cup and Jack Cogger’s form inconsistent, the Bulldogs have serious issues in the halves.
As the rebuild continues, getting that area of the field right is paramount. Rumours of Foran’s name being bandied about for other clubs to consider are rampant, Lewis appears out of favour and Cogger requires a lot of improvement before becoming a consistent and match winning half-back.
However, the idea that Josh Reynolds could march back into Belmore, pick up where he left off and get the Bulldogs humming again in 2020 is unrealistic.
Not least due to his ageing and wounded body that continues to restrict his play.
A Belmore homecoming would also be a poor decision from the powers at be, especially considering the obvious investment in youth they have made and the exciting new players coming to the club in the off-season.
Whilst some may struggle to see it, the Bulldogs’ rebuild is well planned and considered. Investing in a former champion for a potential short term gain would in fact be a step backwards, especially considering the still tight purse strings that are affecting the recruitment decisions being made at the club.
Nothing would please me more than seeing Josh Reynolds wearing the blue and white, I wish he had never left. However, any calls for his return miss the point of what 2019 has been all about.
Cleaning out the contracts that had the club financially hamstrung and discovering new talent has been a sometimes painful but necessary process.
Jayden Okunbor, Ofahiki Ogden and Nick Meaney have been the positives in that process and stand to be much improved players in 2020.
Now is not the time for the Bulldogs to go back to the future and bring Josh Reynolds to Belmore, however romantic that idea might seem.