Wolves barking at top Dog Hasler’s door

Two premierships, five grand finals, 12 straight finals series, 337 NRL games over 13 years for 200 wins – Des Hasler’s coaching record speaks for itself.

It seems almost unfathomable that the wily mad scientist of rugby league finds himself going into season 2017 with the ultimatum to perform or perish.

Following an off-season schism, the Bulldogs board backed Hasler and reiterated their support for the final year of his contract in 2017.

Halsler was set to be handed a two-season contract extension last year however the side’s late-season fade-out – in which they lost their last four to exit the finals in the first week – saw the offer pulled.

Their season was one of contrasting messages – in the top four until round 24, they were knocked for being too predictable.

Hasler fronted the board to save his job and Dogs great Steve Mortimer was forced to resign as a a director following his outspoken criticism of the club’s direction.

The new year has brought upheaval in Hasler’s well-financed football department with David Penna replacing assistant coach Kelly Egan among a host of other changes which included the departure of recruitment chief Noel Cleal.

The board and the club’s dyed-in-the-wool fans will demand a top-four finish this year and anything less could be seen as underachieving.

Captain James Graham is quick to jump to the defence of Hasler, who he calls the hardest-working man and sharpest mind in the game.

“Work ethic,” Graham says when asked about what makes Hasler a great coach.

“I don’t even get to see it all. We might have just half a day and he’s there all afternoon.

“His knowledge of the game is so vast. Something will happen in training and he’ll go ‘that’s what happened in round 14 of 2015 and I can tell you that’s a penalty because X, Y and Z and I’ll show you’.

“And you think ‘how can you remember that?’ And it’s something very innocuous.

“Everything that’s gone on is beyond our control.”

Hasler isn’t the only one at Belmore under pressure this year.

After the club was linked to an attempt to lure Kieran Foran, off-contract five-eighth Josh Reynolds must step up and take greater control of the side.

The same can be said for Moses Mbye, on whom the Bulldogs have staked their future success after he was re-signed until the end of 2020.

Graham is at a loss to explain the side’s alarming slump last year and says he understands fans venting their frustrations.

“It’s really hard to put a finger on it,” Graham said at the launch of the Fox League channel this week.

“There’s so many reasons people could suggest why but sometimes it’s just sport, maybe,.

“Sometimes unfortunately it happens. We’re going to do all in our control and power for it not to happen again.”

Opportunities abound in the Dogs’ back line following Sam Perrett’s retirement and Curtis Rona’s exit to rugby union.

Ex-Canberra winger Brenko Lee and sharp-shooter Kerrod Holland shape as the beneficiaries but 20-year-old Marcelo Montoya is making a big noise in the pre-season.

Graham loathes to talk up a young teammate but can’t help but be excited by the young prospect.

“He’s just really exciting,” Graham said.

“I love seeing those younger players come up and challenge themselves in the first team.

“When I was overseas on holidays still and the boys were back training, they were saying ‘this Marcelo kid’s looking good’.

“I hate putting pressure on people like this but he’s definitely one to look out for.”

BULLDOGS

Premierships: 8 – 1938, 1942, 1980, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1995, 2004

Finishes over the past three seasons: 2016 – 7th, 2015 – 5th, 2014 – 7th

Coach: Des Hasler

Captain: James Graham

Gains: Rod Griffin (Wests Tigers), Richard Kennar (Melbourne), Brenko Lee (Canberra), Zac Woolford (Canberra).

Losses: Tim Browne (Penrith), Lloyd Perrett (Manly), Sam Perrett (retired), Curtis Rona (rugby union), Tony Williams (Cronulla Sharks).

Strengths: They will have arguably the strongest middle-forward rotation in the league with Aiden Tolman, James Graham, David Klemmer as well as Sam Kasiano coming off the bench.

Weaknesses: Have they got the strike power out wide to put points on the top sides? With Sam Perrett and Rona gone, they’ll have a new-look back five. Playing behind the biggest pack in the competition, they will be expected to find the line.

Best team: 1. Will Hopoate, 2. Brett Morris, 3. Josh Morris, 4. Brenko Lee, 5. Kerrod Holland, 6. Josh Reynolds, 7. Moses Mbye, 8. Aiden Tolman, 9. Michael Lichaa, 10. James Graham, 11. Josh Jackson, 12. Greg Eastwood, 13. David Klemmer. Interchange: 14. Sam Kasiano, 15. Raymond Faitala-Mariner, 16. Danny Fualalo, 17. Adam Elliott.

Predicted finish: 9th

Betting: $23

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