The day Lichaa said no to Hasler
The heart wants what the heart wants. And Des Hasler's heart has been set on talented hooker Michael Lichaa for more than three years now which, in rugby league-speak, is a lifetime.
"I was only 18 I think, I might've just finished SG Ball. It was a while ago when I first met him [but] I re-signed with the Sharks then," Lichaa recalled to NRL.com.
"We had talks [about him signing me] but it didn't happen. I was happy where I was.
"This time around I didn't want to let the opportunity slip again."
We couldn't say whether his wooing of the Sharks prodigy was as a future replacement for the never-ending engine that is Matt Ballin at Manly or the aging skipper that was Michael Ennis at the Bulldogs, given Hasler took his clipboard from Brookvale to Belmore not long after Lichaa decided to stay in the Shire in 2011.
But this much we do know: Hasler has been swooning to Lichaa's undeniable talent for a fair while now. And the next time Lichaa became a free man, he melted at the supercoach's advances.
"I know what he's done with a lot of players. When I was 17 or 18, I didn't want to look at it like that. I had just got an opportunity to train with first grade at the Sharks and that was a big thing for me," he explained.
"When I got a bit older, I realised what Des had done with every player he's had from Manly then to the Bulldogs now. He's turned the halves into State of Origin halves at Manly, and he's done it here [at the Bulldogs]. I want to have that opportunity."
The pages of Lichaa's resume already read like that of a long-serving veteran. Only 21 years of age, the Yarrawarra product has already represented NSW at under-18s and under-20s level; he was named at hooker for the 2012 and 2013 NYC Team of the Year; and was also selected for the Junior Kangaroos over the same period.
So you can see why Hasler was prepared to bypass a career-year from the heart of the Bulldogs' grand final side for one that's got younger lungs.
Asked whether he expected to last 80 minutes in his first gig as a bona fide starter, Lichaa said:
"Definitely. That's how Des seems to play his teams. I knew signing here that it was going to be a goal. It's been in the back of my head. And if we keep going like the way we have this pre-season, I should be able to do that."
Despite his obvious affinity for Lichaa three years ago, Hasler already had at his disposal for 2015 an experienced skipper and dummy-half who knew how to toe the line on a rugby league field.
Competitiveness was arguably Ennis' best attribute and, in many ways, it characterised the Bulldogs' run to the decider this year.
"I'm not trying to be Mick Ennis," Lichaa said. "We're totally different players. He was really good for this club for five or six years, but it's my turn now. People will have their opinions and compare us over the next three years that I'm here. But I'm just going to worry about myself. I'm really happy Des put a lot of trust in me over the next years. I'm looking forward to it."
We're sure Des is too.