Bulldogs legend Steve Mortimer. Photo: Getty Images
Steve Mortimer, the greatest ever Canterbury player, says the Bulldogs coach Des Hasler will complete a footballing miracle if he can steer the team to a win in Sunday's grand final.
Mortimer regards what Hasler has already done as incredible. Hasler switched from Manly after winning the premiership with them last season to a club he wasn't originally supposed to join until next year and immediately transformed them into competition heavyweights.
After not even making the finals last year, Canterbury will now play Melbourne in the last game of this season.
But, as far as "Turvey" Mortimer, the former champion halfback, is concerned, incredible won't be a word good enough to describe it if Hasler takes them all the way.
"It's almost a miracle already, what Des has done," Mortimer said yesterday. "It will be a miracle if he can pull it off. Coaches don't leave clubs after winning a premiership, for a start. But there were circumstances that resulted in Des parting company with Manly and he came here this year instead of in 2013.
"I'm not going to say he's the greatest coach of all time, because some great coaches have come before and I've got the utmost respect for people like Jack Gibson and Wayne Bennett, but no one has ever done what Des is trying to do – win comps at two different clubs, in back-to-back years. He would already have his own place in history if he managed to do that – and still have plenty of years in coaching to go."
Hasler is very secretive about his coaching methods and you have to be special to be invited down to where the genius works – in the rooms underneath the grandstand at Belmore Sports Ground – and get an insight into what he does.
Mortimer, a Canterbury Leagues Club director, was lucky enough to get such an invitation.
"I had a meeting with Todd [Greenberg, the Canterbury chief executive] last week, and Des was there," Mortimer said. "He took me down and showed me what they did off the field, all the scientific stuff they used to measure players' performances. I can't be specific about anything, and Dessie knows I would never blurt out any details, but what I will say is that I was amazed by it. I have never seen anything like it in my life.
"I walked away thinking how diligent and thorough Des was with his preparation. I mean, I knew he was a great coach – we all do – but to get a bit of insight into the process really opened my eyes. The thing is, though, while you're being scientific in measuring the performances of players you've also got to remember they're human beings, with different personalities, and Des is obviously able to relate to them all very well.
"I played against Des, so I knew him then. I wouldn't say I knew him well, but well enough to know that he's a gentleman, with old-fashioned values. He's intense and determined when he has to be, which helped make him a great player and has now made him a great coach, but at the same time he's a very decent bloke and that's the main reason I like him."
Mortimer said the form of Melbourne fullback Billy Slater and the ability of the Storm to dominate the play-the-ball in defence were the biggest threats to the Bulldogs in the decider.
"Slater looked like he was struggling for a while after coming back from that knee injury he got in State of Origin, but he looks great now," Mortimer said. "He's bouncing around again, and finding gaps. He's just so competitive and the Bulldogs are going to have to work hard to try to restrict his influence.
"The Storm are a very disciplined side. Like Des says, they are the benchmark in this competition. But the Bulldogs are very disciplined as well, and if they can keep that approach going where they move the ball quickly between a few forwards before reaching the defensive line it could really hurt the Storm.
"The Storm are used to getting three or four defenders into the tackles and slowing the play-the-ball right down. They are the experts at doing it, but if you can put them in a position where they can't target an obvious ball-carrier and they only get one or two defenders into the tackle, then they won't be able to slow it down as they would like and it could change the game in favour of the Bulldogs."