When I was playing footy there were blokes who were fit. And there were blokes who were very fit. And then there were blokes at the very top end, the ultra fit.

And then there was Des Hasler.

In days when we trained a couple times a week and had a run-around on Saturday, Des was really ahead of his time. In fact he always has been, as player and coach.

He was working his core before blokes even knew they had one!

I remember a day, we had a day off – well, we only trained a couple days a week so we had a few days off!

But he rang me, and said, “Listen, Blue’” – his name for me – “How about I meet you down at Long Reef golf course at two o’clock tomorrow and we’ll do some run throughs.”

I just lived up the hill, I said righto.

So we met at the bottom of the 16th hole there, near the 17th tee.

And Des says, “Right – we’re going to do sprints up and back. We’ll sprint up the top of the hill, walk back.”

Now, it’d be 400 metres or so, from sea level, thereabouts, right up to the top of the Long Reef headland.

And 400 metres is a bloody long way to sprint, much less up hill.

Safe to say that after three of these bloody runs I was calling for an ambulance. I was done.

Well, Des continued on and did bloody twenty. Four hundred metre sprints, up this hill, and jogging back.

Twenty times! Eight kilometres of uphill sprints.

He’s one of the hardest blokes that ever played. Certainly the fittest bloke I ever played with.

Des Hasler: Lover and fighter. Pic: NRL.com

As a footballer, in the true sense of the word, he probably wasn’t a footballer, if that makes sense. He probably wasn’t what you’d call a ‘natural’ footy player.

But he was the best athlete. He was incredible. And he became a great player and played for Australia by wringing every ounce of talent out of his frame. He was mad fit.

He was one of the toughest blokes I played with also.

In 1985 we finished equal-fifth with Penrith and had a play-off on the Tuesday night at the SCG. The winner would play Parramatta on the Saturday.

They talk about quick turnaround today – we played on the Sunday, then the Tuesday. The winner would play the following Saturday. Three games in six days.

Anyway we played the Panthers this Tuesday arvo and Des hurt his groin early in the second half. Tore it almost off the bone. If he was a horse they’d have shot him.

But he limped around and never gave up. And just kept on competing, running, tackling, doing what he did.

It was a bloody hard game, sudden death, and we ended up 6-all at full-time. Into extra time. I kicked a wobbly field goal to get us ahead but Greg Alexander kicked two penalty goals and they beat us 10-7, the first time they ever made the semis.

And Des could hardly walk off the field. It was one of the gutsiest things I’ve ever seen. His groin looked like it was torn off the bone.

But he never gave up. It was pure guts.

He was mostly a halfback though he played a bit of lock later on, in the early 90s, when Geoff Toovey turned up.

He came from Penrith in 1983. This is how good he was, how highly Bob Fulton thought of him, he forced Phil Blake to leave Manly. And if people don’t know how good Phil Blake was they should get on the YouTube.

Des Hasler after coaching Manly for the first time, against the Cowboys in 2004.
Des Hasler in 2004 after coaching his first game for Manly. Pic: NRL.com

In ’82 he was leading try-scorer – out of halfback. Chip-and-chase. Fast. Brilliant player.

Des turning up and forced Phil onto the wing – and eventually out of the club.

As a coach he’s one of the best. He’s a coach they want to play for. He’s a Manly man through and through. He’s had success there.

I know that he left after the premiership in 2011 and there was controversy between he and the owners. Salary cap problems.

I was surprised, a little, that he got the gig at the club. You think back to when they were after a coach, his name wasn’t getting mentioned anywhere.

But I’m very happy and comfortable that he’s the coach. Manly had been in the doldrums three, four years. He’s been great for the joint.

Start of 2019, I was one of those people – as were probably most people – thinking Manly had a good core of great players – Tommy and Jake Trbojevic, Daly Cherry-Evans, probably Marty Taupau. Look over the rest and you’d think, yeah, not bad players, they’ll go okay.

But realistically you’re thinking, middle of the road, rebuilding year.

Well – he got them fit. And got them firing. They beat Melbourne in Melbourne. They beat the Rabbitohs. They beat Canberra twice. Then they beat Cronulla at home and were all-but into the 2019 grand final.

Des has mellowed a bit of a coach. He won’t be ripping doors of hinges. 

But I’ll tell you this: he is going to get the absolute best of what he’s got.