Des Hasler may be done at Manly but Sea Eagles NRL saga is far from over
When Des Hasler returned to Manly in 2019, he expected to lead the club he has served for so long back to premiership contention. Now, after four seasons and a whole lot of drama, he leaves against his will with a year still on his contract.
By the time Hasler was dismissed at a board meeting on Thursday morning there had already been months of posturing, media leaks and public negotiations from both sides of a bitter divide between Manly’s administration and Hasler.
And already – astonishingly – former South Sydney and Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold is set to replace him. This is just two years after his disastrous tenure at Brisbane ended less than two seasons into a five-year deal amid outright political warfare, the club’s first wooden spoon and three of the Broncos’ four biggest losses in their history.
It is a stunning fall for Hasler, who played 256 games for the Sea Eagles and won two premierships on the field, before coaching a further 303 games over two stints and netting two more titles. He is long regarded as one of the club’s favourite sons. But Hasler’s desire for complete control of football matters, along with what was perceived as a lack of respect for ownership, has led to a breakdown in his relationship with club powerbrokers to such an extent that Manly did not believe Hasler could continue on without inflicting damage.
July’s Pride jersey fiasco, during which Hasler allowed seven players to sit out a match on religious grounds, brought long-simmering tensions to the boil. And his decision to allow those players to not play without punishment created a divide in the playing group. Manly fell from contending for a top-eight position to losing their last six games, including four by more than 16 points.
The way Hasler spoke about club management when attempting to explain the situation in a press conference strained already-damaged relationships. It also embarrassed the owners, who not only pushed the jersey to promote inclusivity but were forced into a defence of Hasler and the players who refused to wear the jumper.
Likewise, the call by Hasler to lock owner Scott Penn out of the dressing room following the final-round clash with Canterbury left the club with little option but to move on from their coach. The club, attempting to force Hasler out by undercutting his control, put forward a number of measures they thought would not be accepted, including building a succession plan with a club-appointed successor and a loss of influence over recruitment and retention. When Hasler refused to budge, he was sacked.
The bitterness of Hasler’s dismissal is no surprise. He shocked ownership by leaving Manly for Canterbury just a week after guiding the Sea Eagles to the 2011 premiership, and then left the Bulldogs on the back of a legal settlement following roster mismanagement that has left them anchored to the bottom of the table since.
But while Hasler’s time as Manly’s head coach is done, this saga is far from over. Hasler’s departure from Canterbury was marked by a legal stoush over the payout figure, and his camp as been posturing for a bigger number than the reported $450,000 by pushing the line that the club denied him an opportunity to win an automatic contract extension because of the late-season collapse inflicted by the Pride jersey controversy. The lawyers are almost certain to be involved again.
Manly have always been a club steeped in political intrigue. The fight for control rarely got far when Ken Arthurson and Bob Fulton held the reins, even when the Penn family purchased the club. With Arko and Bozo no longer around, though, a Game Of Thrones environment has swallowed six CEOs in eight years and centralised power under the head coach.
This is hardly an environment in which Seibold, of all candidates, could be expected to succeed. Seibold left South Sydney in acrimonious circumstances after just a year, before embarking on a sorry tenure at the Broncos, where he struggled to play the deft politics required and the glare that comes with being a head coach at a big club.
Lessons may have been learned after the tumultuous stint, but his inability to handle the rankling from rival Wayne Bennett, along with question marks over his complex coaching methods and some worrying personnel decisions, may be viewed by many clubs as red flags.
Manly have spent a great deal of energy working out a way to rid themselves of Hasler, and they have succeeded. The challenge now is unifying behind a coach who – like Hasler – has his own challenges with club politics and authority.