A midnight visit to Belmore exactly a year ago convinced Manly's premiership coach Des Hasler he should switch to the Bulldogs.
Hasler, then contracted to the Sea Eagles and accompanied by Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg, did a tour of Belmore's state-of-the-art training facilities under the cover of darkness and agreed to join the club. Today, he could become the first coach in history to win premierships in consecutive years at different clubs.
If so, the Bulldogs can thank their $9 million Centre of Excellence at Belmore. Greenberg, confirming the midnight visit, said, ''The Centre of Excellence we developed highlighted to Des that the Bulldogs had a long-term commitment to sustainable on-field performance.''
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs fans Photo: Mick Tsikas
While Hasler has always been cutting edge in his scientific approach to training, he did not always have the resources at the privately owned Sea Eagles to invest as heavily in new methodology and modern equipment as he wished. Asked when Hasler's clandestine tour of future duty occurred, Greenberg said ''September'' before amending this to, ''After the grand final. Almost 12 months to the day to this one.''
Past chief executives of Canterbury, such as Peter Moore, required a dose of sodium pentathol to exact truthful answers but Greenberg was quick to offer an explanation. ''Des wanted no fuss,'' he said, an observation that matches Hasler's low-key demeanour but also his contract at Manly, which had another year to run.
Centres of excellence are now so important, it's significant that the two NRL teams with the best-resourced football departments have made today's grand final.
The Titans, who finished outside the top eight and are cash poor, also have a much publicised Centre of Excellence, but these temples to the body require staff, such as masseurs and exercise physiologists. It's one thing to have a $26 million facility with ice baths, pools and theatrettes, but another to pay the staff to operate it.
The Broncos have $13 million in the bank, yet have antiquated facilities. It's a reasonable bet the Brisbane club will be investing in a new training headquarters at their Red Hill complex if they are to recapture their dominant position in the NRL.
The Storm have first-class facilities at AAMI Park, which they share with the AFL's Demons and the A-League's Victory. Gerry Ryan, the part-owner of the GreenEDGE cycling team and Melbourne Cup winner Americain, is a long-term Storm sponsor and donated a high-altitude chamber.
Ryan has another of these chambers where he works his racehorses. Don't be surprised if the Storm benefit from some future equine exercise discovery on a par with the calf's blood that was used in injury treatment under Hasler's watch at Manly. The Storm also have access to an anti-gravity machine, a gym, recovery and rehabilitation facilities, meeting rooms, a nearby cafe, car parks and walk to ovals for ball work.
Greenberg says, ''We've got a multipurpose facility, with best-practice rehabilitation. Our gym leads on to the field, allowing the use of GPS technology. It's a one-stop shop where the players can park their cars and do all their work in the one place.''
Canterbury players recently voted to use their share of premiership prizemoney to buy a high-altitude machine. The $9 million Belmore facility was built with funding from three sources - the Rudd Infrastructure program, a NSW government grant and a $1 for $1 spend with the local council. The Bulldogs contributed $500,000.
Government backing was also critical to the success of the Storm after then News Ltd boss John Hartigan convinced then Victorian premier Steve Bracks of the city's need for a rectangular stadium.
The Storm's amenities, on the stadium floor, are light years from the era players changed in public toilets, dodging the syringes of drug users, and did weight training in an old shed.
All AFL clubs have highly resourced football departments. An arms race has developed and the AFL is considering ways of reducing the gap between expenditure by the richest, Collingwood, and the poorest, North Melbourne.
Greenberg knows a club's facilities are a powerful lure to players and coaches. ''When you are limited by the amount you can spend on players via a salary cap, you've got to look at other means of acquiring an edge,'' he said. ''In the case of Des, the Centre of Excellence wasn't opened when he visited. It took 12 months to build and we moved in in November. But he could see we were committed to resourcing long-term success. It also allows me to run my business model off the back of the football department. Fans want to know their club is a better than even shot of winning, plus they want to know we have done everything possible to make this happen.''