Bulldogs coach Des Hasler.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler. DAN HIMBRECHTS

The man who could replace Hasler

THE danger for Des Hasler is his team no longer practises his philosophy. It is a shift in ground that can be the great death rattle for coaches.

Hasler has clear ideas how football teams should play. They were unconventional but all his.

He chiselled this formula in stone after his first year at Canterbury.

Hasler took the Dogs to the 2012 grand final with a philosophy built on everything he learned at Manly, which was considerable.

It relied less on football instinct than it did on the purity of numbers.

Hasler realised he was able to feed his statistics into his computer and by addressing a shortfall here, say, a slow play-the-ball, a domino effect would arise over there. Everybody got better, so his approach was meticulous. It was attention to detail.

Play-the-ball speed, errors, post-contact metres ... the Sea Eagles built a style all their own on the back of it. After winning the premiership with Manly in 2011 Hasler loaded all that data into his car and drove to Belmore where the computers have never been the same since. They groaned and winced under the onslaught.

But it brought success.

Doing what he knew worked at Manly, Hasler took Canterbury to the grand final that first season and it wasn't until later, in the quiet moments, that he acknowledged his greatest satisfaction was knowing that what he made work at Manly he could make work anywhere.

Until now.

Canterbury have no style now. They don't play like Canterbury did when Hasler had them singing and they don't play like Canterbury did any time before, when the football club bulged with silverware.

The question the Bulldogs need to ask is what has changed and can it be fixed?

The club trusted in Hasler when he first arrived. It was a significant leap.

For 30 years the club forged itself on an identity that was the Canterbury style, tough and rugged with little compromise.

The Dogs of War. It fed who they were, how they saw themselves. It underpinned everything from recruitment to coaching to how they wanted to win.

Hasler veered away from that when he arrived and the board, learning to trust outsiders, nervously allowed it to happen.

Almost immediately we saw a new style.

The forwards no longer punished their opposition so much as they finessed them, short balls and tap-ons and cute plays that initially confused the defence.

Hasler's success that first season justified every decision the club made.

But it is clear now that despite finals appearances in all five seasons at Belmore, including two grand finals, the Bulldogs are getting further from a premiership, not nearer. The finesse no longer works.

Hasler is coaching as hard as ever and the players are trying, just not executing. The worry is there seems no way out.

Underneath, the club has allowed its formerly strong junior ranks to wither and serious questions remain around the recruitment and retention in recent seasons.

The inability to rejuvenate the roster is costing Hasler. He can still coach, but he needs to move on for his own reasons as much as Canterbury need to move him on.

It is time for Canterbury to do what it always does in times of trouble and trust in its own.

Dean Pay was rugby league's best-kept secret when he was at the Bulldogs. The club believed in him but few else did.

Then in his fifth season in the top grade, Pay was picked to play for Country against a City pack high on reputation.

Some are still bruised from the punishment inflicted that night.

He just had to get picked for the Blues, and so he did it again against Queensland. He toured with the Kangaroos later that season and became a mainstay in the national team.

You simply couldn't leave him out.

Now an assistant at Canberra, nothing has changed. He did it the Canterbury way then, still does now.

News Corp Australia

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