The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs have once again managed to find a way to damage their brand, this time, just hours before their opening match of the 2020 premiership season.
Often lampooned by fans of other teams , the club has lived the stresses of bad press and off-field incidents as vividly as any other for near on 20 years. Many of those incidents proved to be nothing more than media driven witch-hunts that lacked substance and validity, however, others have been brought on by foolish behaviour.
Youngster Jayden Okunbur and former Panther Corey Harawira-Naera have taken the meaning of the word foolish to a new level. During a public relations opportunity at a Port Macquarie school, the pair’s judgement became seriously impaired when they invited two female students back to their hotel.
Both have been stood down from the Bulldog’s opening round fixture and are now at the mercy of an NRL Integrity Unit that could well end their seasons and damage their market value in the short term.
The hysterical reaction to the Bulldogs’ mad monday celebrations at the Harbour View Hotel in 2018 still lingers in the minds of many fans. Most are happy to slip the boot into the club whenever they are given the chance and subsequently, the Bulldogs should be well and truly aware of the keen eye applied to their actions.
Such media focus and the hilarity fans of other clubs enjoy when the blue and whites find internal ways to embarrass and discredit themselves in the public domain, should result in the ambition of the entire organisation holding itself to the highest possible standard.
Whilst such an intention is undoubtedly expressed within the confines of the club on a regular basis, it appears Okunbur and Harawira-Naera have taken little heed, chosen not to listen or flat out ignored the instruction.
Their actions, whilst still yet to be completely confirmed and punished, show little respect for the purpose of their visit to Port Macquarie, their duties as club representatives and zero professionalism in the lead up to what is an important season for the club.
It appears Rashays, a family restaurant chain, were all but committed to the club for the 2020 season, before pulling the pin on a sponsorship deal as the news broke of the poor pre-season decisions made by the players.
If that is indeed the case, their contracts should be immediately terminated and the club speak openly of the standard expected and the serious repercussions of failing to meet it.
Moreover, the gloss the incident has taken off captain Josh Jackson’s 250th game for the club is equally as harmful. It is utterly embarrassing that the buzz before the match will be about behaviour and potential disciplinary action and not the feats of the one of the greatest Dogs of the modern era.
Many fans of the club with whom I have spoken over the last two days felt physically sick when they first heard dribs and drabs of the news, as it filtered into the news cycle.
Others have attempted to present a ‘nothing to see hear’ argument. Citing the legal age of the girls and the consensual nature of their interactions with the players. Such an argument is nothing but folly.
For a club often tarnished in the media when players fail to meet their and the club’s expectations around behaviour, there should be no grey area, no doubts and a bar of expectation set at a level that in fact protects the players rather than controls them.
Such a dalliance should not even be an option that a player would consider whilst representing the club to the community. Professionals in an array of occupations curb their behaviour, words and drinking when in a professional setting, whether it be at home or on the road.
Is it too much to ask professional rugby league footballers to do the same? I think not.
As it stands, the distraction to the players and staff, the potential sponsorship dollars lost and the bad press that has undermined Jackson’s achievement says all there is to say about the Bulldog’s preparation for their clash with the Eels.
I’ll be there, cheering them on as usual. However, should the club move on the players and tear up their contracts in the near future, I would be more proud than disappointed.