‘One of the greatest speeches’: Hasler delivers mea culpa to end them all

Des Hasler was forever apologising during his playing days for upending his opponents into the turf, to the point he earned the moniker “Sorry”.

On Tuesday, however, Hasler outdid himself, delivering an articulate and impassioned apology that was also striking in its sincerity. With his chairman in New York and the new Manly chief executive yet to commence the role, it was again left to the wily old coach to front a crisis, this time the club’s hamfisted initiative to wear rainbow-themed jerseys to promote inclusivity.

This was a side to Hasler rarely seen – a far cry from the caricature coach forever railing against the injustices of the refereeing gods. It is difficult to imagine another clipboard holder dealing with issues as complex as religion and discrimination with such sensitivity.

“Our intent was to be caring and passionate towards all diverse groups who face inclusion issues daily,” Hasler said. “Sadly [the club’s mishandling of the issue] has caused significant confusion, discomfort and for many people, in particular those groups whose human rights we are in fact attempting to support.”

Has there ever been a better mea culpa?

National treasure Thomas Keneally, who among other things penned Hasler’s biography, doesn’t think so.

Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler apologises on behalf of the club for its handling of pride jerseys.Credit:Nick Moir

“It reduces one to tears of admiration for the man,” Keneally said. “I’ve been noticing for some time as an occasional acquaintance of Des and from just watching him, that the days of him ripping a door from its hinges while at Canterbury are long gone.

“He’s got a very zen demeanour these days and it’s not an artificial one. He’s at peace with the game and with himself. Des is slowly becoming what he has always been, a bit of a prophet … He is a man who worries about the condition of the world. Not all of them are that, they need a certain fixity to stop the team knocking-on all the bloody time.

“In any case, it could be one of the greatest rugby league speeches ever given.”

During his address, Hasler alluded to the man who helped him write it. He described the author as a “confidant” who is autistic, an “advocate for the rights of the neurodiverse” with “a heart as big as Phar Lap.”

The typewritten speech delivered by Des Hasler at the media conference on Tuesday.

That man is Dirk Melton. For the past three years, Melton has been Hasler’s “strategic advisor on football”, a sounding board for all things pertaining to on and off-field matters. Before Hasler sat down with the players, most of who were unaware of the club’s ‘Everyone in League’ jersey initiative, Melton briefed the coach on the wider meaning of the rainbow colours, how they were historically used not only by the LGBTQ community but also a variety of different minority groups to express pride, including during historical civil rights movements.

Hasler addressed the players and then turned to Melton before addressing the media. Melton, a former Sydney FC chief executive and Todd Greenberg’s right-hand man during the former NRL CEO’s time at the Bulldogs, penned every word of the speech, save for the references to himself, after an early gym session on Tuesday morning.

“I felt emotional because of the importance of the message and the fact that a great man believed in my words,” Melton said after watching the press conference on television with his wife.

“That he believed it was worth communicating to the football and broader community, that meant a lot to me.”

“It could be one of the greatest rugby league speeches ever given.”

This is not Hasler’s first great speech. When former Manly prop Addin Fonua Blake was fined for calling a referee a “retard” two years ago, Hasler also fronted the press. For seven minutes he read from a script that Melton also helped him prepare.

“You talk about inclusiveness and diversity, that’s what Des does for me,” Melton said. “Des has accepted me for who I am, he knows I have a good brain and can think well but at times can be brutally honest and that is part of my neurodiversity. He respects that. I would do anything for him.

“Des is a very good human. If you talk to any of his players over the years, he’s a players’ coach, probably not a CEO or chairman’s coach. The players know he has got their back and cares for them uniquely.”

For proof, look no further than his backing of Brett Stewart through sexual assault allegations, James Graham over a biting claim and Manase Fainu during the hooker’s current court case. And it’s why he is also supporting the seven Manly players who will be vilified for their decision not to pull on the rainbow jersey.

The premiership-winning mentor has done so without compromising his principles at a time when, save for injured superstar Tom Trbojevic, he could have had all of his troops on deck for Thursday’s clash, one that could decide whether they play finals football.

“What is so admirable about Des is that he’s willing to blow his season on this issue,” Keneally said.

“What makes you proud of Des is that he sees a big issue when it arises. Sport is notorious for not seeing the big issue when they arise. He’s onto it straight off and is tolerant to all parties.”

For that, Hasler will make no apologies.

Stream the NRL Premiership 2022 live and free on 9Now.

Sports news, results and expert commentary. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.

Most Viewed in Sport

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article