THIS morning, at the grand final breakfast, we finally saw a glimpse of what makes Des Hasler great.
Normally, we see the Canterbury coach begin every media conference with a statement – regardless of the question – insist his team is under the radar, dismiss probing questions cheekily and then say ‘thanks’ and get up before heading for the door.
He did try to set the tone for today’s on-stage interview early – “It’s about the players, we’re here to honour the papers on both teams,” – but then the man poised to be the first in the history of the premiership to win consecutive titles with different clubs went on let his guard down just a little.
At Doltone House (actually, it was Doltone Tent), under questioning from host Warren Smith, Hasler displayed humour. “Are you referring to the calves blood of a couple of years ago?” he said, when asked about his use of sports science.
“They’re cows now.”
More tellingly, though, Hasler allowed himself to be passionate. Instead of deflecting a question about the role of psychologist John Novacs, he told the audience how Novacs not only worked with players but with office staff, coaches and even sponsors.
“A rugby league club is like a community,” he said.
With patients from Sydney Childrens Hospital on hand, Hasler added there was “synergy” with one of the club’s sponsors, Camp Quality. He explaimed how a message of positivity worked equally well with footballers and cancer sufferers. It was inspiring stuff – and a side of Hasler at odds with his obsessive, secretive image.
At first, the crowd seemed unread for a gag from the Canterbury coach. Diners laughed uneasily. It’s that unexpected eloquence, humour and insight which no doubt holds enormous sway over his players – and which outsiders rarely see.
For years, grand final teams have fought a psychological battle to see who could appear the most relaxed at the grand final breakfast. This is where the two prize fighters size each other up, looking for signs of nervousness or uncertainty in their opponent.
The way Hasler effortlessly glided from being evasive to having the 700 guests in the palm of his hand would have been unsettling for Storm fans and maybe even staff and players. He did, however, have competition in the stand-up comedy stakes.
“My roomie is Justin O’Neill,” said Melbourne fullback Billy Slater, when asked what he would do the night before the game. “He’s pretty cute so I might cuddle up to him and watch a movie.”
When co-host Matthew Johns asked his former protege, Cooper Cronk, if he celebrated his triumphs by jumping around his bedroom in his undies, Cronk told Johns: “I don’t celebrate like you.” Johns responded: “Have you been looking through my window again?
And when Wests Tigers Toyota Cup coach Todd Payten was asked about Marika Koroibete, he said: “Being a front rower, I never really thought a winger could be so valuable.”