Des and the Penns

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Captain Moondog

Absolute Superstar
The story of how Manly brought Des Hasler home to Brookvale
David Riccio, Chief Sports Writer, The Sunday Telegraph
31 minutes ago
In his spacious first floor office on Walker Street in North Sydney, Scott Penn’s mobile phone buzzed with a voicemail alert.

It was the last day of August, 2018.

“Hello Scott, it’s Des Hasler, can you give me a call when you have a moment, thanks. Bye.’’

Penn, the Manly chairman, had not heard Hasler’s voice in seven years.

And nor had he wanted to.

Their relationship was severed the moment Hasler told Manly’s 2011 premiership-winning side at their end-of-season awards night that after seven years with the Sea Eagles, he was leaving for Canterbury.

The resentment from Penn was instant — which is why after seven years without the pair ever speaking, it would take him a month to return Hasler’s voicemail.

“He reached out. And at the time, I thought, ‘You know what, the bridge is burnt,’’ Penn told The Sunday Telegraph.

“We were involved for seven years together before he moved on (to Canterbury).

“The reality is, we didn’t actually speak for seven years after that, for obvious reasons — we (the Manly hierarchy) weren’t happy with the way it transpired.’’

Manly coach Trent Barrett quits, aggrieved over the lack of high-performance support. Hasler leaves leaves voicemail message on Manly chairman Scott Penn’s mobile phone.

After seven years, Scott Penn and Des Hasler meet for their first face to face conversation and nine days later both front a press conference to announce Hasler has signed a three-year deal with the club.

Hasler has Manly sitting inside the top four ahead of a Sunday blockbuster with fellow premiership contenders Canberra.

Any attempt to explain the contempt, the mutual ill-will and bad blood between Hasler and the Penn family, which still existed up until just over 12 months ago, will invariably fall short.

The level of disdain was deeply personal, lifelong friendships fractured, emotions and tears spilled over and hearts were broken.
The notion of Hasler ever coaching Manly again wasn’t just laughable. It was viewed as a sick joke.

Yet from that short voicemail message, Manly are once again a club united.

The Sea Eagles 2019 top four finals surge and the likelihood of Hasler being named Dally M coach of the year is one of rugby league’s great comeback stories.

The story of how Manly brought Hasler home, is according to Penn, one of the most defining chapters in the club’s 73-year history.

Five days after a 2011 grand final victory lap with Manly — his second premiership in three years — after beating the Warriors, those within the room recall seeing a visibly unsettled Hasler sitting in a corner at the club’s end-of-year awards night taking in deep breaths.

He had just told the players and club officials he’d signed a four-year deal with Canterbury, beginning in 2013.

Yet the mushroom cloud from Hasler’s bombshell was about to treble in size.

Hasler’s right-hand men, recruitment guru Noel Cleal and assistant coach Kelly Egan, then declared they were following their boss to Belmore.

“Time heals, of course,’’ Penn, the CEO of Weight Watchers Australasia, told The Sunday Telegraph.

“But the turmoil that was caused at the time, to tell the players at our end-of-year dinner after we’d won the comp, that he’s leaving them was just … a bitter pill to swallow.

“And then to take the majority of his football staff with him, that was then left in mine and Geoff’s (Toovey) lap to rebuild.

“You just can’t underestimate the mammoth task that created.

“It was unnecessary (to leave) with a year to go on his (Hasler) contract (at Manly), apart from, obviously, getting paid a significant amount more.

“It wasn’t like it was at the end of a contract. We had a year to go.

“We were all very close with Des and his wife Christine. We knew his kids from a young age and so it was really emotional.

“This is not just a transaction or a deal, this is deeply personal. This was family.”

After a seven-hour board meeting on November 11, 2011, Penn emerged to announce that after seven seasons Hasler had been sacked for alleged contract breaches, including claims he was involved in the poaching of staff and enticing them to join the Bulldogs.

Hasler denied this, declaring that not only had he not acted improperly but would take legal advice in relation to what he regarded as the unlawful termination of his contract.

With Hasler’s immediate availability, Canterbury CEO Todd Greenberg fast-tracked Hasler’s arrival at the Bulldogs for 2012, while Geoff Toovey, Hasler’s assistant coach, was appointed head coach at Manly.

After four seasons, culminating with a ninth-place finish in 2015, Toovey was then sacked for Trent Barrett to take over in 2016.

Barrett lasted 72 games in charge, quitting on August 14, 2018.

“We had a natural successor after Des in Geoff, and we all love Toovs, but from a coaching point of view, it just wasn’t to be,’’ Penn said.

“For Trent to come in, we were giving a young guy a chance and it didn’t work out.

“So then we were really clear that we needed an experienced campaigner and had a look at the market and who was out there. And there weren’t a lot of experienced campaigners out there at the time.

“Michael Maguire was out there, a couple of others, but we were really looking for cultural fit.’’

Manly is very much a family affair, with Penn — the club chairman for the past decade — responsible for enticing his father Rick to buy into the club.

Rick Penn covered $3 million in bills last year alone.

Penn knew how much Hasler’s exit hurt his family, the supporters and the board. But most aggrieved was his mother, Heather, who had watched Hasler take the Bulldogs to the 2012 and 2014 grand finals.

“There was deep disappointment within the family when (Hasler joined Canterbury),’’ Penn said.

“And then there was a healthy dislike for blue and white, too. As there should’ve been.’’

This is the overwhelming reason why Penn waited a month before returning Hasler’s call.

When Hasler called in August last year, he was out of work after the Bulldogs board had decided to sack him the previous September — despite still being contracted until the end of 2019.

Penn had discovered from a close confidant of Hasler’s that his voicemail message was effectively an olive branch from their former coach.

Hasler was acutely aware Barrett had quit and Manly now needed a coach. But in reality, Manly and Hasler needed each other. Egos needed to be put to the side.

“In that month period (after Hasler’s voicemail), we certainly had conversations with the family to say, ‘Hey is this something we want to do?,” Penn said.

“And it wasn’t all roses either, there was some deep feeling within the family.

“It was probably more Heather than Rick because she felt strongly that he’d done the wrong thing.

“So that took a while to talk through.’’


The seven-year silence was eventually broken when from his North Sydney office, Penn called Hasler, who was holidaying in Croatia.

While the rugby league media were focused on linking Michael Maguire, John Cartwright, Jason Taylor and Neil Henry with the vacant Manly post, the rebuild of the Sea Eagles’ most famous band had already begun.

The phone call, which would lead to two further meetings over the next fortnight once Hasler arrived back in Sydney, lasted no more than 10 minutes.

“I was very comfortable picking up the phone,’’ Penn said.

“There was no animosity, it was a case of, I think we should have a chat about the job’.

“I wanted to understand where his head space was at, whether he still had the fire in the belly and wanted to prove a point.

“I said to him, ‘Is this something you want to do?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.’

“It was friendly and cordial and respectful.

“There was a little bit of clearing of the air. I told him that, clearly, I was deeply unhappy with the way it transpired.

“But I said, let’s park that and let’s move on.

“I think it was a defining moment when you know what the club needed.

“Fundamentally, the club stands above everyone. It’s always about what’s in the best interest of the club, not what’s in the best interest of any individual.

“It was then about saying let’s put what happened at the end of 2011 aside and do what is best for the club.’’

Alongside Penn and CEO Lyall Gorman, Hasler was officially unveiled to the press in his maroon and grey Manly polo on October 22, last year.


From where he is watching the Sea Eagles on his iPhone app in New York, where he’s on business, Penn will send Hasler a text message after the crucial clash with Canberra.

“It will either be something positive, or let’s refocus on next week,’’ Penn said.

The pair now speak most days and share a simple philosophy.

“We’re delighted with how things are going,” Penn said. “We’re where we were hoping we would be.

“I coudn’t be happier now seeing smiling faces in the change-rooms, because they (players) deserve that. They’re a credit to the club and to Des.

“This has always been about club first. We’re in this to win premierships.

“We’ve put a lot more money into this than what we ever thought we would. But it’s driven by a passionate desire to succeed.

“Des is a proven performer, he’s taken us to three grand finals. We’ve won two and we want more.’’


Feast yer eyes ..
Tipping Member
Their relationship was severed the moment Hasler told Manly’s 2011 premiership-winning side at their end-of-season awards night that after seven years with the Sea Eagles, he was leaving for Canterbury.

What this powder puff piece is omitting is the one big issue ..... why did Dessie a Manly legend player and Premiership coach decide to leave for Canterbury in the first place ...... what are the events and atmosphere that brought about Dessie's desire to get away from the club he loved ?? ..... and what made him so mad he was prepared to take players and staff with him .. ??

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