They’ll debate the merits of Pay’s 12-month extension long into many nights at Belmore in coming months, but having won his own deal the coach may have now won over a few more supporters.
It wasn’t a complete shock his cellar dwellers blasted the top-of-the-table Tigers 22-8 at Campbelltown on Sunday for their first win of the season, but it wasn’t really expected either.
Just like the board united behind their coach, Pay united behind his players.
For almost an hour, he used only one of his four substitutes. Vintage displays from a hobbling Kieran Foran and fired up Dylan Napa had powered the visitors to a 22-point lead early in the second half, no man watching was more relieved than the one sitting in the blue and white coaching box.
Earlier in the week he had wielded a selection axe with five changes from the loss against Parramatta. It added up to arguably his most satisfying day as an NRL head coach.
“That’s what we’ve spoken about from day one,” Pay said. “We need to perform and individuals need to perform. There’s no point playing really well in second grade if the coach ain’t going to give you a shot. Today worked out for us.”
Napa scored his second try in as many weeks and set up another while Foran played through the pain barrier with an ankle problem to inspire his side’s first win of the season.
Of all the changes Pay made after a horror first fortnight, the introduction of Newcastle recruit Nick Meaney might be the shrewdest as he energised the Bulldogs’ attack.
The livewire No.1 burst 50 metres downfield from a Michael Chee Kam fumble to help set up Reimis Smith’s opener, the first of three opening stanza tries as Canterbury breezed to an 18-0 lead at the break.
The Tigers staged a mini-revival in the second half but were never a chance of running down a team wading out of salary cap waters and unlikely to be in finals contention come September.
“It’s a good kick in the backside for us with what’s required to play at the highest level in this comp,” Tigers coach Michael Maguire said after Benji Marshall (hamstring) failed to finish the match.
“That’s why teams that stay at the top, they do it consistently. I guess over time we’ve probably shown ourselves in the past it probably hasn’t been that in the past at times. If we want to be a team that finishes at the pointy end or at the top of the ladder you’ve got to be consistent in what you do.”
Next week, the Tigers travel to Penrith to take on their old coach. The stakes will be high, perhaps the tension higher.
At least Pay knows he’s relieved a bit of that now.
Canterbury Bulldogs 22 (Reimis Smith, Kieran Foran, Dylan Napa, Adam Elliott tries; Rhyse Martin 3 goals) defeated Wests Tigers 8 (Mahe Fonua, Luke Garner tries) at Campbelltown Stadium. Referees: Grant Atkins, Gavin Badger. Crowd: 15,127.
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.