Method behind the Hasler Madness

As captain of the Kangaroos, Wally Lewis would often just sit back and watch.

Watch how the different personalities of players drawn from Brisbane and Sydney interacted and who he could rely on when Test football was at its very toughest.

On the 1986 Kangaroo Tour to Britain and France he had the cheek of Ben Elias, the stone-faced toughness of Les Davidson and Phil Daley, the intensity of Steve Folkes and the laconic nature of Brett Kenny along with Wynnum Manly teammates such as Gene Miles, Bob Lindner and Greg Dowling.

And then there was a long-haired 25-year-old from Manly Warringah by the name of Des Hasler.

Lewis and Hasler had played for Australia together the year prior in New Zealand but the skipper still struggled to peg down the little bloke who loved to take on the big boys over the course of the three-month tour.

"I used to love sitting back and watching the guys on tour and the way that they were different and assessing what they were all about. Des would do a lot of things that were a little different," Lewis recalls.

"More than anything I remember a day in France where it was so boring and we were doing absolutely nothing. The little guys on tour used to bag the big blokes and vice versa. We'd put shit on Terry Lamb and Des and pick on all the little blokes and they'd pick on us big fat blokes.

"We had this day where we were just sitting around having a barbecue and beers out in the middle of nowhere and they started this game where they'd smack you over the back of the head or flick your ear – because it was fairly cold – and just run away. It started as just a little bit of a giggle but it ended up in a full-scale team war between the big blokes and the little blokes.

"I remember that one because it was Dessie at his best, coming out of his shell. He led from the front, him and 'Baa', and it was just a real indication of how he used to perform on the field as well. 

"It didn't matter how quiet he was or how inactive he was in the team challenges that were going on in different directions... You'd always be turning around and looking for him, thinking, Is Dessie here? You never heard him but that was just his nature but whenever he needed to step up to the plate, he always did, and I think that's probably been the outstanding feature of his coaching."

Hasler will lead a team into an NRL Grand Final for the fifth time in eight seasons on Sunday when the Bulldogs endeavour to take down the raging-hot favourite South Sydney team and does so with as much mystique as when he first took over at Manly back in 2004.

Dubbed the 'nutty professor' by some and with a penchant for staying on the cutting edge of sports science, Lewis believes it is Hasler's past experience as a schoolteacher that has helped him to establish a reputation as one of the finest coaches of the modern era.

"I liken a lot of it to his methods as a schoolteacher," Lewis told NRL.com. "As silly as it may sound, as a teacher, one of the great things that probably goes unrecognised by a lot of people is the way that they've got to change for virtually every kid that they may be teaching.

"Some kids may have difficulties in learning, other kids may just be quiet, other blokes a little bit too eccentric and they've got to adapt to all of those kids and I think that's been a fantastic challenge for Des, to be able to do it as a coach as well.

"I'm sure that he'd be the first one to admit that his life as a schoolteacher and the necessities required, he would feel that they have gone hand in hand with being a great coach.

"Dessie certainly can't be underestimated and while it may make a lot of people laugh, I think that background in teaching has been a big benefit for him.

"That's the type of bloke he is, he just knows how to reach different people, challenges that they face and help them through."

Hasler's experience in guiding his players through the organised chaos that is Grand Final Week shapes as a tremendous advantage against a team desperately trying to shed 43 years of baggage, but he doesn't necessarily subscribe to the theory that you have to lose a grand final before you can win one.

"Sometimes they say you've got to lose one to win one but I think with the football in this modern day it's really how you handle the day and it's really how you go with the calls on the particular day. In saying that, the players know what to expect and that's about as much as you can get out of it," Hasler told 2SM's Talkin' Sport on Monday of the Bulldogs' experience against Melbourne in 2012.

"All the hard work, all the preparation for Sunday's game has already been done in the way that they've led up. They need to call on all that experience and everything that they've learnt and everything that they've grafted out of it comes into it.

"It just gets to the stage of how you start, how you handle the start and if you don't jump right into it the game's over in the blink of an eye. It's just a matter of getting out there and really relishing the moment."

This article first appeared on NRL.com