Departing Canterbury captain James Graham says Des Hasler’s sacking at the NRL club is the wrong move, the forward crediting his mentor for taking him to his footballing limits.
Hasler’s six-year tenure at Canterbury was ended on Tuesday night, Bulldogs chairman Ray Dib ending months of speculation when he informed the coach of the club’s decision.
It comes just months after the Bulldogs had announced a two-year contract extension for the dual premiership-winning coach.
A press release at the time claimed Hasler had “put pen to paper”, with recently departed chief executive Raelene Castle confirming the negotiations for an extension had been finalised.
But on Tuesday night the club claimed that was never binding, making it easier for the board to step in and prevent Hasler staying on into the 2018 season.
Graham, who has been offloaded to St George Illawarra next season by the club to make salary cap space to allow for the arrival of Aaron Woods and Kieran Foran, said the decision came as a shock.
“Speculation around Des Hasler’s future has been very public for two years,” Graham said on Fox Sports’ NRL 360.
“I thought it was put to bed in March or April with that two-year extension, but it seemed to perpetuate and we’ve found ourselves here now.”
Hasler’s 2017 season marked the first time he had missed the finals since his rookie year as a head coach, while he took Canterbury to grand finals in 2012 and 2014.
With fresh cattle at his disposal in 2018, Graham believed the coach deserved the opportunity to go around again.
“He should have been given the chance to have that roster overhauled, which it has now,” Graham said.
“I thought he should’ve been given the reins still.
“I regard Des so highly and will be personally indebted to him for bettering me as a man and a footballer.
“He took me to my footballing limits and took a lot of those boys to their footballing limits.”
It’s understood Dib had completed a two-day review of the team’s football department last week, which included speaking to just three senior players.
It’s also believed he has kept incoming half Foran abreast of the situation, given his close links to Hasler while at Manly.
It’s not thought that Foran has a get-out clause in his contract if Hasler isn’t at the club.
Hasler’s departure could also open the door for sacked South Sydney coach Michael Maguire to return to the NRL through the Bulldogs, while Dean Pay, Jim Dymock and Todd Payten are considered other options.
“The club will now begin its search for a new head coach and will provide further information once that process has been completed,” Dib said.
The decision could also pave the way for Hasler to coach the NSW State of Origin team next year, having worked with the Blues as an assistant before landing the top job at Manly in 2004.