Kent: Manly and Des do the unthinkable
THAT Des Hasler is just days away from being announced as Manly coach, on a three-year deal, shows where both the coach and the club are.
Twelve months ago it was impossible. Three months ago unthinkable.
Now, not only is it plausible, but such is their drop in stock it almost seems necessary.
Their marriage of inconvenience is expected to be announced by the end of the week with the popular tip is that if they cannot get the deal done by then, then it won't be done.
Each needs the other.
Hasler is considering a deal worth $700,000, or almost half what he was paid at Canterbury.
Manly are bringing back the coach they blame for sending the club spiralling down the ladder and who, at one point now apparently in the past, they swore never to forgive.
The Sea Eagles, asleep at the wheel, blame Hasler for some of the contracts that were signed at Manly once he knew he was leaving the Sea Eagles to join Canterbury, which ultimately cost them quality players.
It blew up spectacularly on replacement coach Geoff Toovey, forced to plug the dam wall until he finally ran out of fingers in his fourth and last season.
Hasler's return to Manly underlines once again that the one great forgivable in rugby league is winning.
Manly need to win, not just for the future of their football team but also possibly for the future of the club.
Crowd figures are down, sponsors are walking away and the club is limping into a future in which it might struggle to maintain pace.
Hasler needs it because he has burned inside since being sacked from Canterbury and blamed relentlessly and exclusively for the Bulldogs' salary cap problems.
He was a convenient scapegoat, silent and visible, for others who were also culpable.
So he comes back with a few scores to settle and each gets what the other provides.
Manly have the best coach for the money they are prepared to spend.
Hasler, an opportunity to redeem his reputation, and so is willing to accept the club's skinny budget to show he can still coach.
The soap opera of rugby league is Australian sport's greatest gift. There is never a moment when it is boring.
In the end, Hasler was an ill-fit at Canterbury.
Much of Hasler's success over the years came through his clever manipulation of the salary cap, most famously with his back-ended deals.
There were few cattle traders in the game like him.
It delivered success at Manly, a club with limited third parties to help retain or attract marquee players.
Back-ended deals are a dance with the devil. Their problem is the roster has to be in constant motion, heading off the problem before it arrives.
Hasler backed his ability to cattle trade his players out of the club before the final and most expensive season bit too hard and he did it wonderfully for years at Manly.
The Bulldogs failed to trust Hasler to see out his plan, though, confused by the team's inability to score with the roster available, and Hasler was let go at the worst possible time for him and the club.
The Dogs sacked him just when they needed him.
Hasler's reputation was damaged, some say permanently, and the Dogs were incapable of offloading the players Hasler had earmarked and instead were forced to get rid of prized assets Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods.
The back-ended deals, though, were why it is so hard to imagine Hasler returning to Manly, which he surely will.
On Monday morning Hasler met his agent George Mimis at The Avenue on George Cafe in the city while media waited outside Mimis's office in east Sydney. Spread out on the table in front of him were Mimis's notes on the Manly offer.
Hasler flew in from holidays just the night before and this was his first look at the Sea Eagles' proposal.
Most of the formalities in the standard contract negotiations were irrelevant. There is no need to check out facilities, go through the roster, discover preferences.
Hasler knows Manly and Manly know Hasler.
The deal marked the end of many troubling months for Hasler, where at different points it looked like he might never again get a head coaching job in the NRL.
Now, the offer on the table, quite literally, there was a sense he was back.
And then when it was announced the coffee was on the house, well …