The Bulldogs-Hasler reunion has barely rated a mention this week in the soap opera that is rugby league, at least not when Wayne Bennett and Anthony Seibold are pitted against each other.
It’s just how Hasler prefers it.
Hasler has lost his skipper and Queensland shoo-in, Daly Cherry-Evans, for at least a month with a syndesmosis injury, has Tom Trbojevic still hamstrung and could be forgiven for wondering if he’s running out of troops.
And then there’s his buoyant old club, Canterbury, riding into Lottoland for a match against their old coach who left amid a messy exit and boardroom brawling.
That’s his go, backs against the wall.
Will Hopoate on Des Hasler
His influence is not lost on Hopoate, who was thrust into the NRL as a teenager under Hasler at Manly before reuniting with his first top-grade coach at the Bulldogs. He knows how Hasler will be treating this week.
“That’s his go, backs against the wall,” Hopoate said. “I know he focuses a lot on defence and we’re expecting a physical game. They’ve got key players out, but they’re winning without Tommy. We’re not under any illusions it’s going to be an easy match.
“We’re in a worse position than they are on the ladder. To be honest, I haven’t caught up with him since he left; life takes you on different paths. If I see him on the street around Manly – I’m down there a bit with my family – I’d be sure to say hello.
“It’s almost two years now and everyone has moved on from that. Manly have Des, we have Dean [Pay] and we’re happy with that.”
While Manly’s injury woes pile up, the Bulldogs are sweating on the imminent returns of Dylan Napa and Kieran Foran, who have been named in Pay’s 21-man squad for the trip to Lottoland.
Napa is considered the more likely of the two to make a return this weekend with Foran still well ahead of schedule after undergoing surgery for a syndesmosis complaint.
“He’s got some wolverine healing about him,” Hopoate said. “His injury was projected to be eight weeks or so and for him to potentially come back in four just goes to show the resilience he has.
“Over the past couple of seasons he’s had a lot of setbacks with injuries and unfortunately this came about. It seemed like it was going to be a long-term one, but credit to him he’s been living on the game ready [machine], ice machine and rehabbing the house down.
“There’s been no self pity or feeling sorry for himself. He’s just got his head down, worked hard and look what’s paying off. If he plays for us this week, that’s inspirational for all of us.”
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.