Pressure on Des Hasler to deliver on Canterbury Bulldogs' promise of two titles by 2019
March 24, 2016 - 2:53PM
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You hear Canterbury Leagues before you see it.
The cascading waterfall at the front of the club never stops, much like it's football team.
"As long as the waterfall keeps flowing," says one rugby league heavy hitter, "the Bulldogs will be OK."
In other words, as long as the bottomless pit of money from the Leagues Club keeps flowing down Belmore Road around the corner and into Belmore Sportsground, the football club will keep humming along. They don't chase waterfalls at Canterbury, though. They chase premierships. How much longer will they be content without one?
The Bulldogs' five-year strategic plan, released a year ago, sets out the club's plans in blue and white: "Measuring our success: two grand final wins by 2019".
Their last premiership came in 2004.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
It says much about the strength of the club and the reputation of coach Des Hasler that the Bulldogs rarely come under scrutiny for what happens on the field. Since Hasler's dramatic arrival in late 2011, just days after winning the premiership with Manly, he's revolutionised the club.
Universally described as a "mad scientist", he didn't just drag the Dogs into the professional age but shoved them in front of everyone else, including Melbourne and South Sydney.
He was injecting his players with cow's blood at Manly. He was using GPS before anyone else, with the vital stats of his players coming in on this brand new thing called the iPhone.
The Bulldogs would smash it out in their rundown gym before Des arrived. Now, during a field session at Belmore, the play will break down and the coach's raspy voice will explain what went wrong as video from numerous cameras around the ground is shown on the big screen.
How much does all this cost? I've been told the Dogs spend about $15 million per year on footy, and that includes player payments. About $8 million is spent on the football program.
Hasler, who once stopped in the Brookvale tunnel at half-time as a player to pick up a 50-cent piece, was lured to Belmore for more than $1 million a season.
It's always hard to tell with these things, but other clubs are certain the Dogs spend more on football than any other NRL team.
Are they getting bang for their buck? Four finals appearances including two grand finals in the last four seasons suggests they are. Yet how much longer will the headstrong Bulldogs board be prepared to coast along without a premiership?
There's been talk for months now the board and Hasler keep butting heads over football expenditure, although this type of discussion would happen at most clubs where the coach wants to be on the cutting edge of sports science.
Hasler is contracted until the end of next season, but this is his fifth at Belmore.
Some players report he has openly admitted at training he's "under the pump". Nobody can confirm, however, if he's saying it with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. With Dessie, you never know.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
A future can be built around the likes of David Klemmer, Moses Mbye and Josh Jackson, but the window is closing. The Dogs' style of play, for what it's worth, is very limited, with most of it based off the back of captain James Graham's rampaging runs through the middle.
It's dour and it's effective in finals footy, no doubt. We saw that in 2012 when they reached the grand final. But their form has been streaky this season.
They should've beaten Manly by 50 points in the opening round with the amount of ball they had; they snuck home after the siren against Penrith; they struggled to find points against the Eels and were thumped.
At the heart of the Hasler philosophy, too, is blind faith in his players.
He was adamant Graham never bit Billy Slater's ear in the 2012 grand final, just as he was certain Klemmer never touched referee Ben Cummins in the match against Penrith. The way Hasler manipulated the Klemmer controversy showed just how streetwise he is. He played the NRL off a break.
The day after Klemmer was charged, many journalists were briefed on similar incidents that had escaped the eye of the match review committee. It was House of Cards stuff. In the end, Cummins ended up providing critical testimony in front of the judiciary and Klemmer was set free.
But the siege mentality that was so prevalent and effective at Manly can only work for so long. Des versus The System can only take them so far. On Good Friday, the Bulldogs meet South Sydney at ANZ Stadium.
It comes a year since the infamous match in which Graham was penalised, Klemmer was marched, and referee Gerard Sutton had to dodge 600ml bottles of Coke as he left the field. That match brought out the worst in the Bulldogs. We'll find out this season how much they've changed.
Brian Smith once said a coach's worth isn't necessarily defined by premierships. "I'd say that, too, if I never won one," grinned a rival coach at the time. At a club like the Bulldogs can only tolerate being without one for so long.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/...es-by-2019-20160324-gnq6ik.html#ixzz43nRj2bU4