Bulldogs Team Spirit the Key as Graham Takes Over
Just before he unveiled prop James Graham as his side's skipper for 2015 at the club's season launch on Tuesday night, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler raved about how his side's care and concern for each other "distinguishes us from others".
It was all sweet and lovely and schmoozy and stuff.
All up Hasler spoke for almost a whole five minutes – longer than most of his post-game press conferences – but he signed off with this pearler straight out of the Mahatma Ghandi playbook.
"I wish to conclude with some insightful sentiments and some utterings and words the boys heard over the course of the last couple of months, about a truly inspirational human being. And in this time of negativity, these words truly represent what we aspire to do," Hasler said.
"Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviour. Keep your behaviour positive, because your behaviour becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values. And keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.
"I hope you enjoy the evening. Let us enjoy this season together."
And with that, Hasler unleashed his British Bulldog, a man who had only minutes earlier apologised to reporters for being boring in his first interview as the new leader of the proud family club.
Asked whether the acquisition of Dragons star Brett Morris was the final piece in the puzzle for a club that scored fewer points than the Canberra Raiders last year, Graham replied: "People think that maybe we don't score enough points. But that's not a concern to us, as long as we win the game. Like most things, you pride yourself on defence.
"I apologise for being so boring, but it's just that one week at a time, and hopefully that'll build momentum into the back end of the year."
Then in the ultimate display of affection for his predecessor, the 29-year-old Graham revealed the heartache he felt when he partnered halfback Trent Hodkinson in filling-in for the suspended Michael Ennis during last year's grand final defeat to South Sydney.
"The grand final was bittersweet, it wasn't a position I wanted to be in whatsoever," he said. "It's hard to explain what it was; I was just more disappointed for Michael missing that game. It was hard for me to take any joy out of it. It wasn't a joyous thing for me."
Then the former St Helens skipper paid a number of his teammates the ultimate compliment, explaining how the role of the traditional rugby league captain had changed to a team with multiple leaders. Something that his team – boasting the likes of veterans Aidan Tolman, Frank Pritchard, Sam Perrett, Josh Morris and Josh Jackson – had in spades.
"I think the role of captain has evolved a little bit over the past 5-10 years where, in the past it was very much that one person, he's your captain," he said.
"But now, you look across our team, there's almost seven or eight respectful captains or senior players that will talk in the dressing room or behind the sticks. It's not just one person barking the orders. It's very much a team thing.
"I'm sure if we're behind the sticks, I've got no problem with any of the other boys, if they feel they've got a grievance or something, or after we score a try and we're talking about where we're going moving forward in the next stages of the game... it's all of us that come together, not just that one person."
Graham, who once admitted to being nervous about making his first tackle in the NRL, will be a different sort of skipper to ones we've been accustomed to in this competition – and it's not just because of his accent.
While his aggression and vociferous nature are his moderus operandi, Hasler has opted to go with a man has a care and concern for others that distinguishes him from the rest.
"The obvious thing that every team is trying to achieve in the NRL is to win as many games as possible," Hasler said.
"What distinguishes this bunch is that they are not only doing this, but they are striving to build and strengthen their bond with each other. This is really what got us through some really tough times [before], and tough times ahead in 2015."
This article first appeared on NRL.com