Roy Masters looks at League's crumbling cultural connections. "YOU'RE better off scraping them off the ceiling than picking them up off the floor," an old timer counselled earlier this year when an NRL official expressed concern at the forays of Souths' co-owners Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court into the third-party sponsorship market, fearful the millionaire businessmen would deplete the overall marketing pool. NRL chief executive David Gallop agrees there could be more adventurous thinking in clubland, claiming rugby league's "Beige Age" is a club responsibility, not necessarily the NRL's. "The salary cap model says if you create a system of parity in terms of playing talent, clubs must look for a winning edge via things such as injury prevention and rehabilitation, education and welfare, creating club spirit with sponsors and family," Gallop said. Sales of club merchandising had reached record levels, he said, indicating fans were happy to identify with their clubs, irrespective of a perceived bland landscape where players were transferring mid-season at record levels. He agreed a loyal and growing fan base did not necessarily mean a cultural connection with a club, while nominating the Storm as a team where the top players drew inspiration from their fans and returned it via signing long-term contracts to remain in Melbourne, even in retirement. "The tight community program is working for them," Gallop said of the players' self-sacrificial style on the field and their after-match connect with fans. Paradoxically, while the salary cap has created a level playing field, club chief executives are using it as an excuse to do nothing about forging distinctive cultures. Given the daily media attention to the salary cap concerns of clubs, balancing the books appears as complex an endeavour as reining in the United States' deficit. The Dragons, once a club which never panicked under pressure, now buy and sell players like a supermarket shopper who doesn't know the expiry date of what is in the pantry. They run the risk of being called the "New Transit Lounge", although the Roosters, who have dispatched five halfbacks in three seasons, are doing their best to retain the tag. Penrith were once called the "Chocolate Soldiers" because they were dressed in brown and melted under pressure. Their captain, Craig Gower, could be accused of upholding the tradition, with revelations he is off to play rugby union in France while his team labours at the bottom of the ladder. But Gower has had a run of publicised fracas, and the truth is many clubs now melt under pressure. Dragons prop Ashton Sims has been released six months into a three-year contract and will play next year with the Broncos, who are desperately trying to retain Petero Civoniceva whose place Sims could be expected to take. The Broncos, once the "New Silvertails" because they were Super League's trojan horse, wanting all of Queensland for themselves, demanding the grand final be played in Brisbane and expecting Bill Harrigan be appointed to referee every one of their games, have lost their glamour tag. The club which once boasted it never lost a player is now preoccupied with retaining Civoniceva. Manly were the original Silvertails when they ran Phillip Street, plundered Souths, Norths and Wests and managed to have referee Greg Hartley appointed to most games. Now they have a hard-hat mentality to their play, driven by a coach who grew up in Penrith, and suffer the same referee injustices as everyone else. But a coterie of corporates who work in the CBD's financial towers rent a box at Brookvale Oval called "The Silvertails" and hanker for the day when everyone hated them. When Peter "Bullfrog" Moore ran Canterbury, every opposition chief executive and coach was wary, despite all the wholesome proclamations about Belmore being "the family club". Bullfrog once ordered Belmore Sportsground be flooded to avoid a game against Wests because a record run of injuries had hobbled his stars. It may well have been the only case in sporting history where a levelling of the playing field produced the opposite effect. At least the Magpies knew who they were dealing with ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¦ and so did the media. Gallop said a reason why the NRL had not adopted a draft was to encourage clubs to establish a culture that promoted local juniors. He nominated the Cowboys and Souths, saying: "They have developed indigenous programs, producing local heroes such as Townsville's Matt Bowen, and Souths have changed their Rabbitoh logo from white to black."