Hasler scraps to reclaim underdog status
At some stage, someone's going to be flying so far under the radar that they'll never be detected, or talked about, again.
In the pre-match fight for underdog status in Saturday night's semi-final between Manly and Canterbury, Brett Stewart threw a haymaker when he said the Northern Beaches boys needed the suspended Anthony Watmough to survive in this title race.
And Bulldogs coach Des Hasler couldn't have been any prouder of him for saying it.
"That's Snake at his best. He's been well-tutored, hasn't he? It's his 200th game, down on troops. 'We can't do it, we can't win'," he said on Wednesday morning.
"I know what they're like."
So the embattled club wouldn't have been surprised when their former mentor threw one right back in an attempt to reclaim their role as David against the team that was until a few short weeks ago the NRL Telstra Premiership's undisputed Goliath.
"Look, I said earlier in the week I thought we'd be underdog. Where did Manly finish? (Second.) And where did we finish? (Seventh)," he said.
The Bulldogs might've had the last shot in the lead-up, but the punters always have the final word, with Sportsbet declaring the Sea Eagles certain outsiders for this sudden-death playoff.
But that doesn't mean Hasler's men will take them any less lightly – particularly when Stewart is celebrating such a historic milestone.
"In all seriousness, they're a quality football side. They know it's sudden death, they know it's their last roll of the dice, it's his 200th game, and he is the most prolific try-scoring fullback," he said.
"We have to be on our guard. Finals are so even, so unpredictable. And you've got the rest of that backline, which is just world class.
"Even without Anthony Watmough, who is a loss for them, those forwards would've been stung by criticism and they certainly got by without Anthony during Origin. So as far as we're concerned, it's an even platform out there. So it'll be a tough game."
The 11-year coach also defended the actions of skipper Michael Ennis, who was criticised by Storm coach Craig Bellamy for his niggling of Melbourne captain Cameron Smith in last week's elimination final.
"I didn't view Craig's comments about Mick. I thought he was talking about Generation Y," Hasler said.
"It's the heat of the battle. Mick has come out and [said] he wasn't being disrespectful. What happens on the field, stays on the field.
"You want them to punch each other in the head? That's the only other way to go. Roy Masters wrote a good article didn't he? He wants to bring the biff back... we've moved on."
It was the second time in a matter of weeks Hasler has jumped to the defence of his captain. Late last month the departing Bulldogs hooker came under fire for his relationship with the game's officials.
But Hasler insisted Ennis wasn't being unfairly targeted.
"Oh no, he's a big boy. He's been around for a while. He's pretty experienced. It doesn't faze him. We've moved on, and I want you to move on," he said.