Des Hasler returned to Manly this year on a mission – to make the once proud club a premiership force once again.
Manly have made the finals just once over the past four years, including two seasons (2016 & 2018) where the club finished in the bottom four.
You would have to go back to 2004, Hasler’s first season at the club, to find a season in which the team last finished in the bottom four.
In the seven seasons that followed under Hasler’s tutelage, the club would appear in all seven finals series, including three grand finals and two premiership victories.
He then signed with the Canterbury Bankstown club, taking them to two grand finals in the space of four seasons.
Fans and pundits alike were sceptical when it was first announced Hasler was to return to the club this season, with many thinking it was potentially another step backwards for the club.
Despite taking Canterbury to all but one finals series during his six-year tenure at the club, it was his final season in charge of the Bulldogs which had people wary.
Nathan Webb, a member of the Manly club says he was hesitant when he first heard the news.
“He’s a favourite son at the club but everyone was aware at how things ended at the Bulldogs on such a bad note.”
“At this stage of the season, he’s definitely proved everyone wrong however,” he said.
That appears to be the general consensus with Hasler this season with the club currently sitting on five wins and three loses as they sit equal fifth on the ladder heading into this weekend’s Magic Round clash against Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium.
Just hoping to avoid the wooden spoon this season, Webb says Manly’s current position on the ladder has come as a real shock.
“I was hoping for a competitive season and to avoid the spoon, however, we already have almost as many wins at this stage of the season then we did all of last year”.
Reminiscent of the 2008 season where Canberra head coach Neil Henry took his side of “no names” to a final’s appearance, Hasler is on the verge of making history repeat itself.
With star duo Tom Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evan’s missing large chunks of the season due to injury, Manly have fielded what many have deemed to be the worst backline in the NRL – and the club’s history – featuring the likes of Brendan Elliot, Brad Parker, Reuben Garrick, Lachlan Croker, Kane Elgey, Moses Suli and Jorge Taufua.
This week; following yet another injury, this time to Lachlan Croker, Hasler looks set to play dummy-half Api Koroisau in the five-eighth position.
And it wouldn’t surprise if Manly were to pull another rabbit out of the hat to defeat the Broncos.
It’s been Hasler’s ability to get the best from his lesser players that has the club in a good position to give the competition a real shake this year.
Webb says this sentiment certainly holds true.
“It’s just our willingness to stay in games as a team.”
“All of our boys have performed well above expectations. Brad Parker is one example who has improved a tremendous amount,” he said.
When asked if Manly could be contenders for the premiership, Webb had this response.
“Whilst Des has bought an overall resolve and confidence to the playing group and is a true leader that this current crop of players can respect, I still think we are a fair way off yet.”
“However, things definitely have a familiar feel to when we started building our premiership run off the back of Des’ coaching in 2005,” he said.