A BENCHMARK, by definition, is a ''point of reference from which quality or excellence is measured'', which could lead you to declare that both Manly and Canterbury - the premiers and many people's premiers-elect - are worthy of the title.
Yet in keeping with the quirky world of Des Hasler, it appears neither team wants the title, while both are protesting like schoolyard debaters that the other was more deserving of such praise.
Yesterday, in response to Hasler's comments that Manly were still the benchmark, it was the turn of his replacement at the Sea Eagles, Geoff Toovey. ''If you're winning the comp you have to be doing something right, and that would make you the benchmark, wouldn't it?'' Toovey said.
Hasler, of course, was perennially desperate in his time as the Manly coach to talk down his squad, referring to them regularly as being ''under the radar''.
In the days before he returns to Brookvale Oval as the Bulldogs' coach, he has talked down his own squad while talking up his old one. ''You've got to earn that right [to be the benchmark] like Manly and Melbourne,'' Hasler stressed.
It's all in the timing, just like any comedy. Hasler thinks Manly have earned the right to be a benchmark through two premierships in four seasons; Toovey believes the Bulldogs have earned the right by sitting equal first on the ladder after seven straight wins.
Like trusty pets, Toovey's players joined in yesterday. ''Last time I looked, we were sitting seventh on the ladder, and they're right at the top, and have won seven in a row,'' Sea Eagles co-captain Jason King said. ''We know we've got our work cut out.''
Hooker Matt Ballin added: ''That's the way he approaches his footy, that's his style. He doesn't like too much attention on them and their team, and how well they're going. He does that really well. He did that well for us, and he's doing it well for them at the moment.
''I had a good laugh when I watched the replay on the TV. I think he had a laugh. He knows now that he's not under the radar.''
Toovey, too, couldn't help but chuckle - just like he did when Hasler produced the same material as Manly coach. ''I think people in the inner circles know what it's all about and general football fans know what it's all about as well,'' he said. ''It creates that atmosphere and the fans love it. It's all part of the colourful tapestry of rugby league. I think it's great for the fans.''
Of course, the reaction of the fans will be part of that tapestry. Toovey suggested not only that there would be heckling tomorrow night, but also that if he was a fan, he would be joining in.
''I think the fans will treat Des with a lot of respect,'' Toovey said. ''He's done a wonderful job here at Manly over the last few years and is doing a good job at Canterbury. No dramas there. I am sure there will be some heckling. That's rugby league. That's why it's so good. I would love to be a fan on the hill sometimes and join in.''
Ballin said the supporters would ''love to give it to him''.
''It's the honest truth of it,'' he said. ''I'm sure he knows that.
''He's been there long enough to know how passionate our fans are, and how much they love their footy. I'm sure he knows what to expect from them.
''He doesn't seem to be bothered by too much. He'll probably thrive on the fans, and whatever they say about him, whatever they say to him.
''All year, people have been talking about Des coming back to Brookvale. But that's an external thing. It's great for them, and it's great for rugby league, but we've got to take a step back from that … we've got a game of footy to play and we're not worried about Des Hasler or the Bulldogs, we're worried about what we can do and what we can control.''