Des Hasler is back in all his quirky glory, with the NRL mentor putting a positive focus on the code’s referees on the eve of his opening game in charge of Manly again, against the Wests Tigers.
In his first full-on press conference since October, Hasler labelled talk of his second coming at Manly as nostalgic.
He also questioned whether opposing coach Michael Maguire was keeping his cards up his sleeve by naming former State of Origin playmaker Josh Reynolds in the Tigers’ No.18 jersey.
But as a regular critic of referees throughout his clipboard career, Hasler made a point of praising them at first opportunity on Friday.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” he said when asked about his Manly return. “The players are probably more excited than what I am. They’ve had a pretty hard slog over the off-season.
“In saying that if there’s anything to go by, I thought the referees were outstanding last night (in season-opening Melbourne-Brisbane match).
“I thought they did a great job in letting the game flow, nine penalties in all. Lots of time in play wasn’t there?
“You see fatigue kick in, the ball is in play more. I think we had more play-the-balls in that game than the first three rounds last year after coming off 28 or 38 stoppages or penalties in games.
“Full credit to the NRL, they’ve listened and I thought it was a great spectacle last night.”
Hasler took Manly to the finals seven times between 2004-2011, winning titles in 2008 and his final year.
That stay ended when he controversially signed for Canterbury for 2013 and was sacked with a year to run on his contract.
Another messy exit from the Bulldogs came in 2017 which required the club paying an out-of-court settlement.
He will however have a task on his hands to take Manly back to their past success in 2019.
They finished second-last in 2018 with the worst defence in the competition, while their backline is missing the injured Tom Trbojevic and suspended Dylan Walker.
Reuben Garrick will debut on the wing against the Tigers on Saturday and Brendan Elliot is at fullback, with the inexperienced centre pairing of Brad Parker and Moses Suli.
STATS THAT MATTER:
* Manly haven’t won round-one since 2013 and have the worst opening-week record (27.8 per cent) in the NRL-era.
* The Tigers have won their last four round-one matches and have the third best such record (63.2 per cent).
* They are chasing four straight wins over Manly for the first time.