MEET “Desie 08” - a $500,780, Euro 5 Volvo coach which will be the Sea Eagles’ luxurious home on the highway for away matches in the 2011 NRL season.
The new team transporter will be the envy of every professional sporting team in the country and breaks new ground in Australian sport.
Named after Manly coach Des Hasler and the team’s latest premiership success in 2008, the coach is a dream come true for tragic Sea Eagles fan and sponsor Mario Alfonso.
A few years ago he stopped driving as a contractor and started his own business, Opal Coaches.
Mario’s first coach was called “Beaver” after club legend Steve Menzies. So successful was the business that he soon had “Bozo”, named after club immortal Bob Fulton and then “Arko”, after the club patriarch, Ken Arthurson.
He even recognised the inspirational support of the club’s special cerebral palsy supporter, Alex Ma, by naming a coach “Big Al” and, heaven forbid - there is even a “Zorba”.
Mario followed the lead of elder brother Sam in supporting the Sea Eagles since he was a five-year-old growing up in Earlwood. The passion has never wavered.
In 2004 and 2005, I noticed the same bus driver was rostered on to take the Sea Eagles to matches in Newcastle, Canberra and around the metropolitan area.
That man was Mario and he always went way beyond the call of duty. So popular was he with the players that they started asking for Mario as a permanent driver to matches.
I was stunned in 2006 when, as managing director of Opal Coaches, he walked into my office and said he wanted to become the official carrier of the Sea Eagles.
And it was sheer delight in 2008 when the team boarded “Bozo” from its Narrabeen headquarters and headed to ANZ Stadium for the grand final with the Melbourne Storm.
The trip back to Manly Leagues Club, and a reception from 5000 cheering fans close to midnight, was a moment to be bottled for Mario.
“Desie 08” has to be seen to believed. It has 48 seats of Italian leather in a two-tone grey - except for the second seat on the right side behind the driver.
That’s where Des Hasler sits on every journey and, to mark the spot, the two seats are maroon.
The players have the choice of five, flat-screen, high-definition television sets and connection points for I phones and I-pads.
And there is an oversized on- board toilet.
Mario drove the newest member of his growing fleet down the highway from Brisbane this week and it will be shown to the players sometime next week.
Supporting the Sea Eagles is a passion for Mario and he considers himself to be a lucky man to be able to mix his business with his great pleasure of watching his beloved team.
“I delight in spreading the Manly brand all over Australia,” he said.
“Overseas visitors ask me about the names on the coaches and I tell them about the greatest rugby league club in the world. I consider the role of getting the players to the game in a comfortable, relaxed manner as an important part of their pre-match routine. They are all great young men - many have become personal friends. They deserve to go to a game in style. It preserves the silvertail image,” he said.
THE exit of the Delmege family and the introduction of Quantum Eco Hot Water as a shareholder in the Sea Eagles has been smooth and the team hasn’t missed a beat in a torrid, off-season training program.
There has been much speculation as to who owns what in the Sea Eagles and chairman Scott Penn released the following breakdown this week:
Penn Sport has a majority 40.34 per cent.
Quantum has 36.90 per cent.
Manly Warringah District Football Club has 13.93 per cent and Manly Leagues Club 8.83 per cent.
THE Sea Eagles will have two trials before the start of the 2011 season.
The first will be at Brookvale Oval with Cronulla Sharks on Friday, February 11 and the second with the New Zealand Warriors in Auckland on Saturday, February 26. Times for both games have yet to be determined.
THE Beacon Hills Bears Junior Rugby League Club will hold its annual reunion next Saturday from 1pm at the Parkway Hotel, Frenchs Forest. All former players are welcome.