How Hasler revved up Josh Morris

The story is an old one and he’s been asked the questions a thousand times: his struggles throughout 2011, how he fell out of favour under former coach Kevin Moore… was even dumped to NSW Cup before bouncing back to earn a belated call-up to the Australian Four Nations squad last October.

Josh Morris has had enough of last year – hates discussing it – yet even as he tries to move on from those dark days he admits they played a significant role in his stunning return to form for the Bulldogs this season.

“Yeah, I think it’s important to set goals at the start of every year,” he says in the wake of last Sunday’s 30-20 win over the Gold Coast – a game in which he scored his fifth try in as many games this season.

“One of the main things that I have focused on this year has been my involvement. I have picked up my involvement in attack, with things like getting in there and helping out the boys when they are tired.

“Obviously last year I was a bit down on confidence with that knee injury so I wasn’t as involved as I would have liked to have been. This year I made that a main focus, to try and pick that up and help out the team.”

Morris is one of a number of Bulldogs players apparently rejuvenated by the arrival of new coach Des Hasler this season, with this once-dour side proving instead to be among the most free-flowing attacking units in the Telstra Premiership over the opening five rounds of the season.

That transformation has been evident elsewhere in the form of sizzling fullback Ben Barba, but in Morris’ case the increased involvement has ensured the lightning left centre who once left opponents clutching at thin air, is back.

Asked about the play already dubbed ‘try of the season’ against the Titans last week in which he and Barba combined in a length-of-the-field movement, Morris puts such thrilling passages down to the freedom Hasler has given Canterbury’s outside backs in 2012.

“It was nice to get over the tryline – Benny had a fair bit of work to do – but I think just the structure that we’ve got in place now allows those opportunities for myself and Jonathan Wright, Benny as well, to get the ball with a little bit of space – and it’s always good to get that. It’s probably something that has been missing in the last couple of years.

“Obviously we’ve got some fair attacking players in our side so [Hasler] has developed the structure that caters for everyone.

“At the moment it’s going well but we could probably still fix up a few things there to get those completion rates up and really start to get into the grind of the game.”

Morris points to Hasler’s attention to detail as the most glaring difference between now and years past, with the two-time premiership-winning coach employing many of the same systems that turned Manly into such a force.

“It is his professionalism,” Morris explained. “He is very diligent and into everything he does. He crosses his Ts and dots his Is. He gives us the game plan and it is very thorough. He knows what he is talking about.

“It’s just great to have that level of professionalism. It’s pretty infectious across the playing group.”

While the going is good these days, with Canterbury’s 4-1 start to the season pushing them up to second on the NRL ladder, for Morris it all started last November when he first sat down with Hasler for a one-on-one.

“He chatted to everyone in the squad and told us what we were doing good, what we were doing bad and things we needed to fix,” Morris continued. “Every player at the start, before the trials, knew what we needed to improve on.

“As I said, I needed to work on my involvement and it has increased a fair bit. I’m quite happy coming off at the end of each game knowing that I’ve given it my all.”

Morris’ form this season has already paid some dividends. Although he has taken the rare step of instructing the Bulldogs’ media department to tell reporters that State of Origin discussion is off limits, the 25-year-old is known to be one of just three centres in the selectors’ sights.

And when he mentions those goals he set himself at the start of the year, there is little doubt that Josh Morris is already eyeing that sky blue jersey.

“I definitely have some goals that I have set and the only way to achieve those goals is to play well and contribute to the team,” he said. “If the team is going well and I’m still playing my role to the best of my abilities I’ll be in the frame.

“Obviously 4-1 is a good start to the season but we don’t want to let that slip. All I’m doing right now is concentrating on my job and my role in the team and hopefully the rewards come from that.”

TIME OUT WITH JOSH MORRIS

Favourite TV show?
“I’ve got a couple. I like ‘Sons of Anarchy’. It’s a motorbike show on Foxtel. I don’t mind those kinds of shows.”

Favourite food?
“I think my weakness would have to be a Crust pizza. After games I’m usually pretty hungry so I like to get one of them the night after a game.”

Footy aside, what’s your ideal Saturday?
“If I’m with the partner, probably to take our dog down to the beach, get some sun and relax. If I’m with the boys probably head down to the pub for a few beers and a punt at the TAB.”

Favourite movie?
“I’ve got a lot of favourite movies. I’m more into comedies so anything with Will Ferrell in it is normally pretty funny.”

What would your partner say is your worst habit?
“Probably when she is trying to sleep and I’m still up she says I walk around and stomp my feet too hard.”

What would you be doing if you weren’t playing footy?
“I have no idea. If I wasn’t playing professional footy I’d still be playing footy down at Kiama with a few of my mates, but I’m not too sure. I was doing a P.E. teaching course at Uni so I probably would have finished that and been a P.E. teacher, like my sister and my Dad.”