Canterbury Bulldogs champion Willie Mason has sent a clear message to players who complain about training at the club: “If you can't handle that, you won't be king there.”
This comes after the Bulldogs took the spotlight after rumored news circulated from several players with complaints about the workload of players who were expected to be in practice between 8am and 5.30pm.
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It was far from the season the Belmore club had hoped for after signing former Panthers assistant Cameron Ciraldo on a five-year deal.
The Bulldogs fell into a hole near the end of the season after winning just one of their last six and two games since Round 12.
The team is ranked 15th in the NRL rankings and, despite seven wins this season, has a -327 points difference, the worst in the NRL.
The club are down 735 points, giving them the NRL's worst defensive record and second-worst attacking record ahead of the Wests Tigers, who only won by wooden spoons.
And if the side concede more than 40 points in their last game of the season against Gold Coast Titans, they will finish in the top 10 in Australian rugby league history in a season with the most points conceded.
However, the Bulldogs have not played finals football since 2016 and this trend needs to be reversed by the club.
on his speak Levels with Willie Mason and Justin Horo On the podcast, Mason, the Bulldogs' former Premier League winner and who works on the club's coaching staff, slammed the players who complained about the training schedule.
“It's damn soft,” Mason said.
“I hate stuff like that because I see what our trainers put together with Ciro (trainer Cameron Ciraldo), Travis Touma, Zapp, Chady Randall, Bobcat (Andrew Ryan) and Ogre (Mark O'Meley), all these guys, high performance. I know the schedule.
“If you can't handle that, you won't be the king there. Because there are high standards at the club, regardless of what's going on and where we are in the rankings.
“But there are no excuses and you get kicked out of the club and that's what Ciro wants to do.
“These guys have had a loser mentality there for like five years, so it's a cultural thing, winning and losing.
“It's a way to fish them out. All the crap comes out of there. If you can't handle the way the Bulldogs play and train, this ain't your damn club. And they will find out. You'll find out because if you're on contract right now and you're not in the squad next year or if they don't want you, you're the guy they don't want at the moment at the club.
“So the people we want there will be there. The players who come in will also bring a culture of success with them.
“It will take a minute, but the fact is, you have to persevere. It's just that, and we're all in the same boat.
“Do you think it's damn good to watch these little kids suffer these losses almost every week? Preparing them so well and seeing them so shaken up after the game – that's heartbreaking for coaches. Imagine you're Gus (Phil Gould) – I'm just sort of the outside-in, so to speak. Imagine you are Ciro. Imagine if you were these guys riding these waves with them trying to make them better people, better players, better everything and we just can't handle the results. But we're on that damn wave.”
Horo interjected, saying he feels sorry for players like captain Reed Mahoney, who he added “rips his heart out every week”.
Mason agreed, but said, “If you don't want to be there, you won't be there.”
The Bulldogs had sparked controversy again on Wednesday after reports of a “fringe first-grader” leaving the club after being forced to wrestle a dozen teammates as punishment for showing up late to practice.
The player was reportedly desperate and vowed not to return to the club.
Bulldogs football boss Phil Gould spoke about the problem on his website Six tackles with Gus podcast, but refused to give too many details.
“This is one of those instances where we have to be very measured as a club as there are some very sensitive issues at stake,” Gould said, adding that there had been some “exaggeration and embellishment”.
“It's not like he left after the event, he was still at the club for a week and then decided he needed to take some leave and he did.
“We have been waiting for some reports from medical professionals, which we now have. My suspicion is that details of this report were somehow leaked, which is why the media is now suddenly picking up the story.
“Our priority is the well-being of the player, it's as simple as that.”
Ciraldo himself commented on the rumours, saying he was trying to “change behaviors and “push standards”.
Ciraldo said curbing behavior amid players' complaints about long days at the club had been key in turning a bad season into a successful one.
“Hard work is essential, we have a long day of the week and when you get the last massage, you probably leave at 5:30 p.m.,” said Ciraldo.
“In the place where I was before, the days were longer.
“Nobody came to me and complained about long days. We have a Jersey Flegg group (under 21) that does weights at 5am, works 10 hours and comes back at 5:30pm to train on the field.
“We have a leadership group that we meet with every week and one would like to think that if there had been any unrest these people would have brought it up.”
With NCA Newswire