Different Des sparking old Manly feeling

Des Hasler's successful return to Manly has been one of the best stories of the NRL season.
Des Hasler's successful return to Manly has been one of the best stories of the NRL season.

Daly Cherry-Evans can see the similarities between Des Hasler's last premiership at Manly and this year's finals campaign.

Call it the Des effect.

Manly, with the world against them. The "Guess what, Manly hates you too" banner aloft on the Lottoland hill.

Back in 2011, it was the feeling that everyone was against them that Hasler harnessed so well as his team triumphed.

This time it's also been adversity in the form injuries, with about $2 million worth of talent currently sidelined.

"I can't help but think it would have been a pretty big staple of our season in 2011, that backs-to-the-wall mentality," captain Cherry-Evans says.

"And it's certainly building again here isn't it?"

Hasler though, is a different man in significant ways to the one who coached Manly to the second title of his eight-year tenure in 2011 title before departing just over a month later to join Canterbury.

Since then he has experienced time in the rugby league wilderness.

Thursday will mark two years since Hasler was sacked by Canterbury before a contract extension he'd signed had even begun.

He was out of a job after missing the finals for the first time in 13 years, and with questions being asked about whether he'd ever coach in the NRL again.

Fast forward and Hasler has rebuilt Manly from the rubble of their second-last finish in 2018, which came amid predecessor Trent Barrett's messy exit.

His return is one of the great stories of 2019, regardless of the outcome of Friday night's semi-final against South Sydney.

While most Manly players weren't sure what to expected when he arrived back last summer, those who knew him have seen a change.

"He is so much more relaxed here," says Lloyd Perrett, who also played under Hasler at the Bulldogs.

"This is home for him. He is so much more confident and he knows the area and the staff.

"He knows the Manly way. That's the only difference, otherwise he is meticulous, intense and detailed as ever."

Hasler has brought the Manly way back to Manly too.

His return has attracted the likes of stalwarts Matt Ballin, Brett Stewart, Michael Monaghan, Noel Cleal and trainer Donny Singe back to work alongside him at the club.

They have noticed a difference as well.

"I think he's better at timing his intensity and relaxed times now," Ballin says.

"Through his experience he has worked on delegating more jobs to his other coaching staff.

"Working on times to be intense and not, it just comes with the experience."

While Cherry-Evans can sense similarities with 2011, Hasler has had to go down a different path in 2019.

In that title season eight years ago 13 of Manly's star-studded top 17 were current or future Test or State of Origin players.

In comparison, nine of Hasler's 17 players from last week's elimination final win had played less than 50 NRL games - and the club still has a penalty on its salary cap.

"You've got to read the room and feel the temperature. There are different personalities to what there were back then," Ballin says.

"A lot of new guys and he only started this year so they are only feeling their way with him and he is feeling his way with them too.

"He can relate to anyone, if it's a kid who has just come out of high school or a veteran like Joel Thompson or Daly Cherry-Evans.

"We still use that everyone-hates-Manly situation and we feed off that and that's always going to be there with the head coach fostering that environment."

Players say Hasler is being rewarded for bonds he has formed right across the club's full 30-man squad.

The likes of Brendan Elliot, Sean Keppie, Haumole Olakauatu and Perrett were all part of a lowly-ranked, reserve grade team for most the year.

But on Saturday, they won an NRL finals match when called into Hasler's group.

"He cares about his players and I think that's quite evident with our performances on the field," Elliot says.

"He does put in a lot of effort through the whole 30-man squad, and it's really paying off."

Australian Associated Press