Monday, 25 February 2013

Sunday's Coming: Gateshead

Thunder Rolls in on the Wave of a Crest

Jets partnership with the
Roosters really took off
in 2012.
I confess I'm a bit conflicted. Having seen first hand what partnerships with top flight clubs adds to the VB NSW Cup down-under - particularly in relation to 2012 premiers Newtown Jets - I've been open to the positives they bring to clubs like ours in the UK.

Yes it's a new concept, yes it's a leap of faith for the game - and yes it's 'not the British way of doing things', but as shareholder in a (Rochdale) pioneering club I was happy for us to embrace the unknown and see what we could gain as a relatively new and inexperienced organisation.

Indeed, while the debate over potential onfield benefits rages on in some of the more indignantly luddite corners of the game, I've always believed that it's what we learn OFF the field that will stand us in greater stead in the future. If we can absorb 10% of what makes Saints successful as a club, it'll make us 100% better and that alone makes the partnership worthwhile.

But, as I say, I am conflicted and there's a great example of why to be found at North Sydney Oval. 

North Sydney Bears used to be one of the cornerstones of the NRL: founder members, eternal battlers, ever presents. But when Murdoch and his merger police went looking to consolidate the strengths and remove the weaknesses in the competition, Norths were in a slump. Hence they were forced into the fatally flawed Northern Eagles merger with arch rivals Manly. When the relationship reached breaking point and Manly 'extracted themselves', the broken - and broke - Bears found themselves discarded by the elite and forced down into the second tier, to slug out their seasons in front of a dwindling bunch of diehards.

As if that were not ignominious enough, the final insult came when partnerships were introduced into what was previously NRL's 'reserve grade' (AKA, the last bastion of 'proper' Sydney Suburban Football).

While 'traditional' clubs like Newtown and 'new' clubs stepping up from the Bundy Cup like 'Mounties' Windsor and Wentworthville found a level of workable equilibrium with their 'big brother' clubs (the former after an abortive fling with the Sharks at distant Cronulla), Norths faced a dilemma. Earmarked for partrnership with former rivals Souths, they were - unlike fellow NSW Cup sides - compelled to wear the badge of their partner club on the sleeve of their jersey.  And it is this subjugation of a club's identity that makes my teeth itch a bit too much.

I'm uncomfortable enough that the words 'Saint' and 'Helens' appear even in text on a Rochdale Hornets jersey (beneath the crest on the replica - go take a look), but what Gateshead have done is - even for an advocate of partnerships - beyond the pale.

Three crowns on a shirt, Roger Millward gleaming...
Designs released earlier this month show the Hull KR Crest on the sleeve of their 2013 jersey. This willingness to dilute their identity is a step too far for me - and it's provided ample fuel for 'partnership deniers' arguments that all the Super League clubs are doing is 'dressing up' their reserve teams in Championship clothing. The more cynical amongst us might suggest that, as 'Gateshead' have been playing with a Hull FC badge on the front of their jersey for the last 14 years, it's probably no wonder that the Thunder brand was so quick to demean its own identity.

But the reality is that, regardless of your view on partnerships, putting another club's badge on your shirt is  - and should be - anathema to any true fan, regardless of their loyalty. 

So with GatesHull KR at Spotland on Sunday, I admit I'm a bit conflicted. Yes I want partnerships to work. Yes I want to see improvements on and off the field. And yes, I want to see Dane Donoghue do a Daniel Mortimer and lift the Championship 1 Trophy. But would I want to see him do it with a Saints badge on a Hornets shirt? That's the question.