‘There’s a really good window where we could do something great’: Hasler’s high hopes for Titans

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A favourite Des Hasler phrase is “under the radar”. It aptly describes his arrival on the Gold Coast, perhaps the only time in rugby league history that a big transfer story hasn’t leaked to the media.

“It was about respect for all parties, including the Titans, [former coach] Justin Holbrook and myself,” Hasler said.

The Titans have barely registered a blip on the sporting landscape either since their inception, failing to truly make a mark on the locals or on the NRL. That could be about to change with Hasler’s arrival on the glitter strip.

In his first interview since his departure from Manly, the new Titans mentor was bullish when asked if his new club could be in a premiership window in the coming years.

“Yeah, easy,” Hasler said. “It’s a very young squad, the average age is about 22 or 23, although Foz [Kieran Foran] probably bumps it up a bit.

“You don’t want to sound cliche-ish, but there’s a lot of 70-plus gamers. There’s a really good window where we could do something good, something great.

“It does happen. You only need to look at how the Warriors bounced back, the way Newcastle bounced back.

“It’s strange, the NRL year is so unpredictable. Newcastle were in the bottom six after round 11. [Kalyn] Ponga was finished, he was retiring. And then look at the way they bounced back.

“Where were the Broncos three years ago?

New Gold Coast coach Des Hasler.Credit: Gold Coast Titans

“You never say never – you shouldn’t. That’s the exciting part about it … there are plenty of possibilities.

“I picked up Manly in ’19 and they were 14th. It’s very real. So much happens in the NRL calendar. That’s all part of it.”

Hasler has unfinished business in the NRL. The two-time premiership-winning coach is excited about the challenge at his new club, while still at loggerheads with his previous one. His departure from Manly is a topic he won’t broach, given that his controversial sacking is now before the Supreme Court.

Nobody saw the shift north coming. Negotiations with Titans powerbrokers remained a secret until the deal was done.

“In my 30 years doing this, this organisation handled that as professionally, diligently and respectfully as any deal I’ve ever done,” said Hasler’s agent, George Mimis.

“The confidentiality is a sign of respect, not just to Des or us, but also the incumbent and other parts of the business.”

Out of work and looking for a fresh start, Hasler had several options. It has been widely reported that Newcastle and St George Illawarra had expressed an interest, but after doing his due diligence the Gold Coast became the logical option.

“It fitted the best,” Hasler said. “The front of house – Steve Mitchell [Titans chief executive] met with me and it was a really good process. There is some real talent in the roster.

“You weigh up where they are at and you weigh up the roster, and it presented quite well. In the end, it worked out best.

“I don’t want to say potential, because it’s so hackneyed, but there’s some ability there, for sure.”

The pre-season hasn’t yet started, but Hasler has long been diligently at work in the background. It began with the retention of star forwards Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita, who had the opportunity to trigger exit clauses in their contracts that could have been activated the moment Holbrook departed.

Instead, Hasler helped convince them to stay.

“It’s testament to the two boys – I never thought they would leave; they didn’t want to leave,” Hasler said. “It was a good indicator to me that their buy-in was strong, that they believed in where the place was going. That was really good.”

“There’s a really good window where we could do something good, something great.”

The move will reunite Hasler with 33-year-old Foran, who has long described the veteran mentor as a father figure.

“I know what Kieran is about, what he stands for, what he brings to the side,” Hasler said. “That’s why the Titans recruited him, it’s about influence. When I say influence, it’s about experience, which is important to the side.

“At the Broncos it’s Adam Reynolds; a guy like Shaun Johnson at the Warriors. That voice is important, which is why Ben Hunt is important at the Dragons.”

Hasler dead-batted questions about the potential arrival of Hunt, who has indicated he would be keen to join the club should a release from the Dragons be forthcoming. The Red V has made it clear that Hunt will be made to honour his contract, leaving Hasler to focus instead on the roster at his disposal.

The 62-year-old will have some big positional calls to make during the pre-season, given AJ Brimson, Jayden Campbell and Keano Kini all have the ability to play at fullback.

“They are all high-class headaches to have,” Hasler said. “You’ve also got young Jojo Fifita. The versatility that all those players offer is a bonus. There are all those situations to work through over the next couple of months.”

When things went sideways at Manly, Hasler had no doubt that he still had more to give as a coach. Despite now being in his 60s, he arrives on the Gold Coast with his sense of humour – and his trademark locks – intact.

“The hair is still there,” he said. “The part that pisses off a lot of people is that it’s not grey.”

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