OPINION | Why Pay Had to Go; and Why He Had to Stay

It is time to look at both sides of the story. To play devil’s advocate, if you will.

Dean Pay’s time as Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs coach has come to an end. After 108 games in the blue and white between 1989 and 1995, and 57 with the clipboard, Pay fell on his sword after it became clear a new coach would be appointed for 2021.

The Bulldogs have a strong, united board. I can guarantee this. Despite the targeted campaign against chairwoman Lynne Anderson and the board, those in the know describe the rumours of discontent as speculative and maliciously false.

Simply put, rather than give those rumours air time, they are being ignored because they simply aren’t worth the time to the people who have done a tremendous job rebuilding a broken and battered Bulldogs over the past three seasons.

The rebuild is far from over, but the finish line is in sight. Now with the money to sign four or five very good players, the hunt is on for a new coach. One who is experienced, because there is no need to pull the pin on Pay only to bring in another rookie.

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Why Dean Pay Had to Go

Thirty three per cent. That is the win rate of a coach who has had experience in the coaching box under Craig Bellamy and Ricky Stuart. Despite arriving at the Bulldogs in 2018 hailed as the favourite son, Pay has unfortunately failed to deliver results.

Why that may be will be covered when we look at why he should have stayed. But the simple fact is, for whatever the reason, the Bulldogs are facing another wooden spoon after several seasons lingering at the bottom of the ladder.

Their attack has been among the worst in the competition since Pay took over. Their creativity nil, their spark and speed seemingly non-existent. That, coupled with the fact Pay was coaching his first NRL side meant a multitude of issues.

Without results, and appearing to be a strong and capable coach, players don’t want to change clubs. Yes, the salary cap has been an absolute mess up until now, so it’s been difficult enough to lure talent, but even with that fact players were turning down the club.

Api Koroisau is a prime example. He was ready to don the blue and white. The announcement was drafted. Then, he changed his mind when he realised success with the Penrith Panthers was far more likely in the short term.

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Some of his team selections have been, to put it nicely, frustrating. Arguably the first smart move was moving Will Hopoate to fullback and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to the wing in round four. Many would argue Aiden Tolman has played one year too long. He offers very little in the way of damage to the opposition. Yet he continues to start.

Under Pay, the Bulldogs averaged just 10 points per game in 2020. It was hardly any better in 2019.

These are just some of the reasons that Pay was no chance to be offered a new contract for 2021. While a true blue Bulldog deserves to go out in style, this is the harsh reality of NRL football.

Why Dean Pay Had to Stay

Cast your mind back to the end of season 2018. And the end of season 2019 while you’re at it. The Bulldogs had found their bark.

Nestled among a couple of defeats were some gritty, strong, defensive-driven wins over a range of teams, including some in the top eight. The end of those seasons were promising. So promising that fans had thought the next year would “definitely” be better than the last.

Then, disaster. Not only has Pay had to deal with a massive salary cap problem thanks to previous management and a roster choc-full of rookies with barely a handful of games to their name, his star player and halfback was laid off for a long period of time due to injury.

Off-field misdemeanours then saw the NRL de-register exciting winger Jayden Okunbor and one of the game’s premier offloaders: Kiwi international Corey Harawira-Naera. Talk about throwing a spanner in the works literally on the eve of their first game for season 2020.

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No coach, whether it be Pay, Bellamy, Stuart, Gibson or Gould, could do a great deal with a roster as raw and hampered by missing players as this one. It was a similar story in seasons 2018 and 2019.

What Pay did do well is blood youngsters. Over the past couple of seasons he gave first grade starts to the likes of Lachlan Lewis, Brandon Wakeham, Jake Averillo, Renouf To’omaga, Ofahiki Ogden and others.

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Some weren’t ready for the NRL. But Pay’s hands were tied. He was looking towards the future. He gave these guys a chance and some of them now have 30-plus games under their belt. In that sense, he has done a wonderful job as coach of the Bulldogs.

How would have he done with a roster he helped form in 2021, with players the Bulldogs can now target given their wealth of cap space? We will never know.

One thing is for sure, whoever is signed to coach the team out of turmoil and into the top eight needs experience as a head coach. He needs to get what it takes to be a Bulldog.

I, for one, will try and remain as optimistic as possible. I implore other Bulldogs fans to do the same. Keep the faith. Be proud to be a Bulldog.

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