Blind Freddy can see league has a leadership problem
JAKE Friend will slip on the number 9 jersey and run out to play for the Roosters tonight. It will be just under a week since he, along with teammate Sandor Earl, allegedly assaulted a 31-year-old woman in a Sydney nightclub.
Despite being formally charged, they are free to wear the colours of one of rugby league’s foundation entities – and even the most ardent Roosters fan must see that there is something terribly wrong with a club that allows it.
It doesn’t take Jack Welch to point out that a badly managed organisation tends to rot all the way to the bottom.
And it’s little wonder that Jake Friend, 19, struggles to control himself when his own coach at the Roosters is less than forthcoming about his own behaviour on the drink.
Two weeks ago, Brad Fittler fined himself $10,000 after getting tanked before a game against the Cowboys in Townsville. Fittler claimed he had a few beers and was guilty only of knocking on the door of the wrong hotel room, waking a young woman who promptly called the police.
Why Fittler felt the need to bang on the door of his own hotel room completely defies logic. If it was as innocent as he makes out, who did he expect to answer? But whatever, Freddie. The point here is that Friend can’t be expected to cop a lecture from the boss about codes of behaviour in the presence of alcohol.
The real problem for the Roosters is that their coach has lost all moral authority over his players.
Friend, 19, is at best a fringe first-grader and yet his performance at Tank nightclub last week is the second drunken fiasco he’s been involved in this season. The first was a high-range drink-driving charge, for which he appeared in court just days earlier.
Friend is one of those mediocre players who lives out his career in the news pages rather than sport. The kid would not even get a start in the lower grades with St George, the club the Roosters face tonight, because the Dragons have Wayne Bennett and Bennett has standards.
The old Queenslander works and lives by a code that Fittler should copy out and stick on his bedroom wall.
While at the Broncos, Bennett made his name not just as a winning coach but as a true leader, cutting players dead if they lacked discipline, even if it meant crossing big names off his roster. It was always preferable to suffer short-term pain than lose the respect and discipline of the whole squad.
These are difficult times for Fittler. His team, once the envy of the league, is running dead last. With a solid mix of representative talent, the Roosters should be somewhere around the top eight and with every failure he’s becoming more desperate.
But the decision to allow two players charged with assault to play in a televised first-grade game was the act of a foolish and immature coach.
I’m prepared to bet my signed 2002 premiership Roosters jumper that Friend won’t win the game for Fittler. So what will the struggling coach get out of his decision to let him play? It can only serve to further damage the club.
Freddie Fittler the player was cool and calculating, possessed with a sidestep that his opponents always saw coming but never seemed to be able to stop.
But Fittler the coach is a hot head who, like Nathan Brown at the Dragons before him, wants to see himself as one of the boys rather than the grown-up in a suit and tie who makes the hard decisions.
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