Hasler Manly's man of mystery SOME days Dessie Hasler walks out into the Manly car park and finds his Nissan Patrol missing. Not so much stolen but . . . well, gone. Then his wallet disappears. Training gear too. And no one has seen his favourite Doc Martins shoes, purchased on the 1990 Kangaroo tour, in months. "But he knows they're still around," one Manly player reveals on condition of anonymity. "Because a ransom note has been sent." Dessie Hasler is going to wake up this morning and hate us for writing this yarn. Forget that we know the whereabouts of his prized hush puppies. This is a guy who detests revealing anything about himself. Ever. When The Daily Telegraph first cornered Hasler for an interview at Manly training this week, his response was polite but brief: "You want a story? With me? Ah, sorry mate, nah." Even his Sea Eagles staffers tiptoed around the topic. Everyone wary. Guarded. Insisting they would "need to check Des knows about the story" before offering comment. "Oh, Dessie hates publicity," Manly legend Max Krilich laughs. "It's why he's always walking around with his head down? He isn't just looking for money." So what do any of us really know about Desmond John Hasler? This coaching conundrum who, when teaching at St Pius College, Chatswood in the early 1990s, would deny his own existence. "Yeah, we were always asking 'are you Des Hasler the footballer?'," former student James Kirrane recalls. "And he always said 'no'. Eventually he got so angry about it, we stopped." The secret, however, is to persist. To keep asking. Like the staffers at Manly HQ, who eventually crack and speak about Hasler the analytical thinker. A mind, they say, which introduced the GPS tracking device to league and is equal to any Bennett, Bellamy or Sheens. This is the coach who spends all night dissecting video tapes and data printouts. Stats sheets and nutrition guides. Even scans newspapers for a line, a word, anything to bring him closer to his rivals. "You guys have no idea how that poor little brain works," back-rower Anthony Watmough laughs. "Des analyses everything to the nth degree. I don't think he lets anyone on our staff sleep." And so we keep asking. Keep piecing together this puzzle that's equal parts coach, Catholic and rat cunning. Hasler, they say, drinks rarely. Attends Mass regularly. And also boasts an astute business brain that sees him keep company with the likes of John Singleton and Alan Jones. When late Manly secretary Doug Daley was asked to name the toughest manager he ever dealt with, the old boy replied: "No manager came close to Dessie Hasler negotiating his own deals". Hasler also has a great sense of humour (can you imagine Bennett or Brian Smith laughing if their car went missing?). And tight with a dollar. Just ask the Stewart boys, who throw silver coins onto the turf during training in the hope he'll pick one up. "I call him God," laughs author and Manly tragic Thomas Keneally. "Not for blasphemy, but because his ways are so mysterious." But everyone, it seems, adds their piece to the puzzle. Like Australian Paralympian George Tonna, who was invited as a teenager to the Hasler household one Origin night. "Dessie had this huge trophy cabinet, made your eyes bulge," Tonna, a cerebral palsy sufferer recalls. "But when I asked about his favourite, he pulled this dingy pewter mug out from right at the back. "It was for the 'Hasler Challenge', an annual go-kart race between family members. That sums Des up to me . . . family man." One of the great sporting tragedies is that we judge our athletes by their performances on the pitch. And so it is with Hasler. How, we ask, can this guy be a thinker? Dessie was brawn not brain. Guts not gifts. He was a fitness freak who hung from the gymnasium roof doing isometrics while his teammates pumped iron below. A player even Steve Menzies remembers as "the halfback who never passed". "Dessie wasn't the most gifted footballer," Krilich continues of the utility who still played Origins, Tests and won two premierships with Manly. "But Wayne Bennett . . . mate, he was a winger." Also working against Hasler is his old school look. You know, the scraggy blond mullet. The weathered face. Those bowed legs that carried him through 351 games at Penrith, Manly, Hull and Wests. And what of that "wired" expression? Some say Hasler never sleeps. Others suggest 16 years of footy will simply do that to a man. Watmough, however, reckons it has more to do with the "14,000 cups of coffee" his coach drinks every day. "People think Dessie is always swearing and cranky," hooker Michael Monaghan concedes. "But watch footage of when we're up by 40 and he's exactly the same. Just one of those guys who likes to shout." But not today. No, as this particular training session finally draws to a close, we try to corner Dessie once more. A last desperate play for something, anything, from this impenetrable vault. "Ah, mate, I'm just waddling along," Hasler smiles. "I'm fortunate to have great support staff, great players. They're the ones who deserve the wraps . . ." And with that he's gone. Hasler and his short, bowed legs waddling off towards the car park. No doubt hoping his trusty Nissan Patrol is still where he left it.