All forgiven as Hasler returns to coach Manly

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles have today announced the appointment of Des Hasler to the role of head coach for the next three years. The Manly board has forgiven and forgotten Halser's tumultuous past in deciding to bring back the man both revered and derided, for the roles he played at both Manly and the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.

It is a move that surprised many, but speaking at the media conference Hasler was philosophical about the decision.

"You learn in rugby league, very soon, that all things are possible," Hasler said.

Hasler looked decidedly uncomfortable today as he tried to downplay the significance of his salary cap management calls. When asked about the situation he left behind at the Bulldogs, he broke eye-contact with the media, looked down and bumbled his way through a response. When he was finished he called an end to the questions.

"I've always had a pretty robust philosophy towards the best way to manage a cap... with an incumbent coach it is always that coach's priority to look at that list and manage that list and carve out a way, and craft out a way of going forward... I don't think it should be about laying the blame," Hasler said.

"Players values are very subjective and it has got to fit in with the coach's plans at that particular time, and I think it's naïve to suggest that one (coach's) salary cap management plan is another's misery.

"I've always had a plan and I've always been committed to executing that plan, going into the future, both in my time at the Dogs and in my time here prior at Manly. Had I been retained in those coaching roles I would have been committed to seeing those plans through and manage those matters.

"The notion of back-ended deals, as reported, I think is a bit simplistic and generally wrong. I don't think it has a regard to really many factors that come into managing and are relevant to list management, and that is the end of the lecture today, no more questions," Hasler concluded.

Sea Eagles fans will look back fondly to the 2004 start of Hasler's initial coaching reign at the club. After making three grand finals in the nineties, culminating in the 1997 loss to Newcastle, the Sea Eagles experienced troubled times. They failed to make the finals in '98 and '99 and in 2000 were forced to merge with North Sydney to form the ill-fated Northern Eagles. Three more seasons of failure followed before the merger was disbanded and the Sea Eagles abandoned Gosford to bunker down on the peninsular once more.

When Hasler took over it had been six long years since the club had played finals football and with an otherwise rich history of success, fans were ready for Hasler's hard-line approach to fitness and discipline.

Hasler set about rebuilding the team to almost immediate effect. They made the finals in 2005 and 2006 and a year later lost the 2007 grand final to the since discredited Melbourne Storm. The following year they won their first premiership since the 1996 title when they crushed the Storm 40-0 in the 2008 grand final. Hasler was the hero, who, despite coming from Gosford via Penrith Panthers, had bled for the maroon and white as a player and understood what it took to turn Manly into a winning team.

The Sea Eagles made the finals in 2009 and 2010, crashing out both times, before Hasler led them to another premiership in 2011, defeating New Zealand Warriors in the grand final.

Through the success, worrying signs were already beginning to emerge, with players rumoured to be accepting pay cuts in order to keep the team together. With a club's success comes a natural rise in the value of the players contributing to that success. The salary cap system is designed to share player talent around, with no one club able to build a team of superstars and keep them through their careers.

The truth would later emerge that Hasler had encouraged a series of back-ended contracts. It was a way of legally by-passing the salary cap, by paying his top quality players the bare minimum allowed under the system, while promising them a big pay day at the end of their contracts. It works brilliantly until pay day arrives and you can't pay all those stars and remain under the salary cap, even allowing for expected cap increases.

With cracks appearing in the team and well-publicised blow-ups between key players Anthony Watmough, the Stewart brothers and Daly Cherry-Evans, Hasler announced he would be coaching the Bulldogs from 2013. With rumours circulating that Hasler was talking to players and coaching staff about joining him at Belmore, the Manly board sacked him almost immediately, meaning he took over at the Bulldogs for the 2012 season.

He had instant success, leading the Bulldogs to the 2012 grand final where they were beaten by Melbourne Storm. He was named the 2012 Dally M coach of the year, while behind him Geoff Toovey battled to return the Sea Eagles to salary cap compliance and on field glory.

In 2013 the Bulldogs crashed out of the finals in the first week before making another grand final appearance the following season where they lost to the Rabbitohs. They would make the finals again in 2015 and 2016, winning only one out of three finals clashes to crash out both times.

At the beginning of the 2017 season, despite rumblings of similar salary cap dramas building, the Bulldogs administration re-signed Hasler for a further two years. With on field performances crumbling under Hasler's rigid, mistake-free playing style, the Bulldogs missed the finals. The club did an about-face and decided that Hasler had to go.

Former Bulldogs player Dean Pay took over as coach for 2018 and found a club in disarray. Hasler had once again built and retained a competitive side by back-ending player contracts. The Bulldogs needed to have a fire sale, sending captain James Graham and fan-favourite Josh Reynolds elsewhere, and moving Moses Mbye and new signing Aaron Woods on mid-season. Thanks to the system put in place by Hasler, the Bulldogs were now paying star players to play at other clubs, topping up their salaries to match their back-ended deals.

There were also big concerns at the Bulldogs about Hasler's disregard for junior development at the club. Under the Hasler mantra, ready-made players were needed to guarantee fast-tracked results. There was seemingly no value in the long-term development of local players. This approach has left the Bulldogs in a dark place for some years to come.

It is a surprise to many that any club would risk signing Hasler, particularly one which has suffered under his reign previously. His abilities as a coach are clouded by the fact that he built his successes on the back of high-quality teams which he retained, with seemingly little or no regard for the future.

He will look to rebuild the trust of the club and its fans in his methods, as he settles back into Brookvale. He is seen as a Manly man, at a club which places disproportionate importance in such things.

"Well certainly we've won eight premierships with a Manly man in charge, all eight, so we're pretty confident that Des can bring us the success that we need," Manly owner Scott Penn added.