Nik Kosef has lived and breathed Manly – knows all about their inner sanctum and what makes them tick – and when he looks at Des Hasler’s 2011 grand final side he likes what he sees.
A member of the dominant Sea Eagles outfit that reached three consecutive grand finals between 1995-97 (winning the 1996 premiership), Kosef reckons this year’s version is as close to the old days as he’s seen and says it is that ‘us-versus-them’ mentality that will get them home against the Warriors on Sunday night.
“The Manly side now, I think Des has put a lot into them and he coaches with a lot of intensity,” he said. “You can tell that just by looking at them.
“That ‘us-against-them’ mentality really works well for the club and it worked well for us too. I loved it. There was no bigger thrill for me than walking out there when everyone was booing you.
“I loved going out there, proving them wrong and showing that we were the more capable side. During that period (in the ’90s) that’s what we did. It was great times.”
Under the coaching of club legend Bob Fulton, the 1990s Sea Eagles – boasting the likes of Steve Menzies, Geoff Toovey, Mark Carroll, Terry Hill, Matthew Ridge, Cliff Lyons, John Hopoate, David Gillespie and current coach Des Hasler – built a reputation as one of the greatest defensive sides of all time.
Incredibly, they finishing their famous 1996 campaign having conceded just 8.68 points per game and they weren’t far behind in their other minor premiership years conceding 11.27 in 1995 and 16.64 in 1997.
“I think ‘Bozo’ (Fulton) did a really good job of getting 20 blokes across the board… even though there were different personalities we all got on really well,” Kosef explained.
“He really helped create that mentality of us against them. Even today, out of those 20 blokes there are still probably 14 or 15 of us that are really tight and speak regularly but back then we were living out of each other’s pockets and we didn’t want to let one another down.
“The start of ’94 was when we all started to come together and a heap of us were kids. Danny Moore had come from Queensland but we all played -21s together so it was like growing up with your mates – not dissimilar to what Brisbane had this year. I really think over the next few years they’ll form some strong partnerships there.
“But ‘Bozo’ – there was an aura about him. You wanted to play for him and you didn’t want to make mistakes. That’s what it came down to. I was packing myself, to be honest! I wasn’t nervous about playing under him – but I didn’t want to fail.”
Kosef himself was one of that side’s most promising young prospects – a hulking five-eighth or back-rower who played eight games for NSW and 10 Tests for Australia between 1995-’99 – yet his body wasn’t kind to him.
A total of four knee reconstructions before the age of 28 stunted his development as a player and although he didn’t call it quits until 2002, he admits he probably should have moved on a good three or four years earlier.
“That was the story of the second half of my career,” he recalled. “Realistically, 1998 was when I probably should have stopped playing but I ended up playing until 2002. I ended up in the front row and to be honest I was struggling a lot.
“So it hasn’t been easy and I’ve still had some problems with [the knees] over the years. The last two years, I actually got up to about 140kg – too much good food and grog I think – but I’m back to my playing weight now and I’m finding it a lot easier.
“As I said, the last few years they were pretty shot. It’s a shame – if the knees were still good I’d love to be sitting next to Steve [Menzies] over in France.”
These days Kosef has moved into the pub business and currently owns a share in two pubs in Chinchilla in Queensland’s Darling Downs following stints in Toowoomba, the Gold Coast and Tamworth.
“I’ve got 10 per cent of two hotels – the Club and the Commercial – and they’re going well,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always been interested in. When I finished playing I worked at the ‘Harbord Hilton’ for a while but I got some good advice saying ‘The best thing you can do is go out and get a pub yourself and have a crack’ so that’s what I did.
“I do all the day-to-day operations and I’m learning as I go; we’ve got two pretty big motels with them as well, so I’m learning about them because I haven’t got any background in them. But it’s all pretty good, we’re really happy with what we’re doing up there.
“It’s all coal-seam gas and coal mining where we are, so they’re flying to be honest.”