The final four: Des is the joker in the pack

Dane Eldridge Columnist

By , Dane Eldridge is a Roar Expert

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    Even though this finals series has been all over the shop, we still find ourselves at the preliminary stage with three of the top four ranked sides still in contention. So on yer bike, romantic unpredictability.

    In saying that, all is not lost for those who appreciate some whimsical horseplay in a controlled environment – all you have to do is just look to the coaching ranks.

    Sure, there are some who are perspiring over all manner of pressing issues, with furrowed brows and the world on their shoulders, and then there’s Des Hasler.

    At the time of the year when the microwave is on high, when everyone is straight-laced and narky, and when lips are pursed and arms are crossed so tight that there’s no circulation to the extremities, the Dogs doyen has deployed the kaleidoscopic demeanour and decided to kick-off a big old game of silly buggers.

    We all know this as the Dessie we love and would love to strangle. He’s on ‘loveable old scammer’ mode and he wants to lure you in and pick your pocket, and this is why that of the remaining four in 2014, he is definitely the joker in the pack.

    When you’ve overseen nine straight finals campaigns and you’re clinically cooky, your kitbag of highjinks runs deep. When you find yourself as the solitary crazy old man among a pack of worthy-yet-wired cubs and you’re pressure-free after coming from the clouds, you dust off your Sunday best and really tickle some brains.

    Thus far, Des has been putting on the full ritz.

    Since masterminding a Godfather of an upset against Melbourne, Hasler has been steadily increasing his antics with each week he’s defied sudden-death. Palming off compliments, blowing smoke up opponent’s bums, blowing smoke up the referee’s bums, nitpicking over semantics, extending benches, calling almost-mute press conferences and even sometimes laughing.

    Add to this his team’s snap acceleration in performance and danger factor, and the whole situation is doing everyone’s heads in.

    In comparison to the other coaches, the crafty Bulldog seems to be cruising. Trent Robinson looks antsy for that elusive 80-minute performance, Michael Maguire is lumping around a backpack of expectation and Ivan Cleary is tirelessly campaigning for respect.

    Des, however, is writing jokes and sitting back in his chair so far that it might even be on a lean, content in the knowledge that he is the ultimate dangerous outlier.

    It’s an amazing position that him and his team find themselves in considering how smelly they were coming in to the finals. In the approach, they struck fear in to their opposition with six losses in their last eight games, forgetting in the process how to run up points and cause headaches for everybody but themselves.

    Now they are remarkably up to their nosehairs in the race for the title belt as $1.75 favourites to advance to a grand bloody final on Saturday night. In the space of two weeks, it seems the joker with the blow-wave has acquired all of the aces.

    Can Hasler steer this team in to an utterly insane berth for the last game of the year?

    If it happens, it would rank as one of his greatest ever wool-pulling ruses, and probably even greater than that time he wanted to feed his players pints of calves blood. Good times.

    However, standing in his way is a hyper-committed Penrith team with a persecution complex and a wily coach. This man in charge Cleary must be congratulated for adopting the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ mantra in the lead-up to the match with a preparation meticulously tailored to his opponent.

    The Panther mogul started the week by draining a few VBs at the NSW Cup semis on Sunday before spending the coaches’ press conference talking up his opposition and jauntily recounting how good Hasler’s camomile tea was back in their days at Manly. Then he nearly nodded off as he listened to his own voice, despite a disco of cameras flashing all up in his grill.

    Whether this tactical response is enough from Cleary remains to be seen. One feels that when you are coming up against a two-time premiership coach with a famed intemperance that’s peaking on the YOLO setting, you’re going to need more than a relaxed outlook and some reverse psychology.

    As they say in Dutch leisure, it’s going to be “toit”.

    Nevertheless, regardless of the outcome of this tantalising fixture, one cannot deny that in an unforgettable circus of a finals series, Hasler has been entertainment on toast – even more so than usual.

    Whether you are one of his disciples, a neutral or even a hater, you’ve got to admit that there’s no greater sight than Des in full flight. I salute you, you purveyor of pranks, and applaud your gravel-toned brand of mayhem while ever it’s used to undermine any team other than the Roosters or anyone I’ve backed.

    Calling all Roarers! It’s time for a group Descussion.

    Is the Dogs coach on the cusp of making us all look like fools by advancing to the grand final? Do you appreciate his gruff disposition or do you want to noogie that boofy head of his? Or will Cleary’s Panthers be the ones who end up doing the out-foxing?

    Dane Eldridge
    Dane Eldridge

    Dane was named best and fairest in the 2004 Bathurst mixed indoor cricket competition. With nothing in the game left to achieve, he immediately retired at his peak to a reclusive life ensconced in the velvet of organised contests. Catch the man on Twitter @eld2_0.

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