The problem at Manly wasn’t Des - it’s Scott Penn
October 13, 2022 — 3.53pm
The problem at Manly was not coach Des Hasler - it’s owner and chairman Scott Penn.
What’s gone down at the Sea Eagles in the past few months, and particularly this week, confirms that much. It’s hardly surprising when Penn spends most of his time living in New York, devising ways to hold an NRL match in the US where he can hang with Hugh Jackman.
The manager of Manly stars Tom and Jake Trbojevic has released a concerning statement amid the club's stoush with coach Des Hasler.
Why Penn ruthlessly managed Hasler - a club great and two-time premiership coach - towards the exit at Brookvale isn’t entirely clear.
When Channel Nine’s Danny Weidler door-stopped him after a board meeting on Tuesday, Penn looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights, bottom lip quivering because he was finally being asked some tough questions on the record.
Asked why Hasler was being moved on, Penn said: “We have a premiership-winning team. What we need is a football department that can get us back there as quickly as possible.”
After Penn brought Hasler back to the club in 2019 - “when no-one else wanted him” - to clean up the mess left by Trent Barrett, Hasler made the semi-finals, finished 13th, reached a preliminary final, and this year finished 11th following the season-ending injury to the game’s best player, Tom Trbojevic, and the Rainbow Jersey controversy caused by the ham-fisted actions of club management, not the coach.
Hasler was sacked on Thursday morning following a board meeting. The decision was never about football but a clash of egos.
On one hand, you had an owner concerned about “optics” - his favourite term - and mitigating financial exposure for his family’s business. On the other, a coach who’s a noted control freak that still has the 50-cent piece he found in the Brookvale Oval tunnel at a halftime when he was a player in the 1980s.
Des is Des, bless him. He can be trickier to deal with than a Burmese Python. With the magic comes the madness. But it’s not like Penn didn’t know what kind of coach he was signing.
If he couldn’t remember Hasler’s first incarnation at Brookvale, surely he observed Hasler’s messy exit from the Bulldogs
Former Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg and chairman Ray Dib still argue about who gave Hasler so much autonomy at Belmore. Hasler argued he had to get his hands on every facet of the Manly operation this time around out of necessity. The club runs on a skeleton staff compared to others and changes chief executives like they’re oil filters.
Many within Manly believe what truly aggrieved Penn was the way Hasler handled himself in the 23-minute media conference in response to the rainbow jersey controversy that tore the playing group in half.
A narrative has been spun that Hasler “slammed” management. I’d suggest people watch it again. You’ll find a coach doing an admirable job answering tough questions from tough non-rugby league reporters about tough non-rugby league matters when someone from the front office should have been in the hot seat.
New chief executive Tony Mestrov hadn’t started, so Hasler was forced to stand in. Where was Penn? Where was acting CEO Gary Wolman? Where was whoever was responsible for the ****-show?
Instead, Hasler took all the bullets. Throughout the media cross-examination, he constantly apologised for the mistakes “we have made”. He threw nobody under the bus and it’s duplicitous to argue otherwise.
Penn and Mestrov have identified Anthony Seibold as a potential solution. Good grief.
Seibold is a nice enough guy, has a deep knowledge of the game and has a future as a head coach. But if he couldn’t handle the politics of the Broncos, how will he handle the politics of Manly, which often feels like a never-ending season of House of Cards?
He talked a good game to get the job at Red Hill. Now Penn is swallowing it up at Manly.
Clubs usually sack coaches after they lose the playing group. Hasler had pretty much the whole dressing-room, including Tom and Jake Trbojevic, firmly in his corner.
He did so by blindly, for better or worse, backing them. A week ago, with his own future uncertain, Hasler sat in a witness box providing a character reference for Manase Fainu, who has been found guilty of plunging a steak knife into the back of a man at a Mormon church dance in southwestern Sydney.
It’s become a modern-day reality in rugby league that clubs can’t sack a coach unless they have a viable alternative.
If Penn and Mestrov knew the answer to the question they were asking, why ask it?
This was always going to end one way: with Hasler being sacked and then launching legal action. Hasler is said to be devastated about his messy exit because of his 30-year association with the club — but he’ll be licking his lips about a payout.
Dib’s tongue must have been firmly planted in his cheek when he told News Corp earlier this week that Manly must sack Hasler immediately.
History buffs will remember Dib re-signed Hasler in April 2018 before sacking him six months later before the Bulldogs eventually paid Hasler more than $1 million in damages.
It’s unlikely to cost Manly that much but his legal team is confident about his position.
Shuffling Hasler out the door resolves little, though. On Penn’s watch, a once-proud club has descended into chaos. The buck stops with him.
There’s been speculation for years about the Penns selling out of Manly. Asking price: $40 million. They’ve recently knocked back offers of between $20 and $25 million.
If they keep paying out coaches and pissing on club legends, they’ll be lucky if they can hock it to Cash Converters.