THE official tourism promo for Mudgee promises visitors "one of the country's great wine towns, where wineries set on rolling hills serve award-winning drops and epicurean fare".
But Des Hasler will have no time to quaff a cheeky chardonnay or indulge in epicurean fare - whatever that is - when the Sea Eagles bus into the central west town the weekend after next to play Gold Coast. By then, Manly's season could already be cactus - if it's not already - and Hasler's coaching career on life support.
The Sea Eagles have lost their first four games of 2021, winning just one of their last 13 games stretching back to July last year. Most alarmingly, the majority of those defeats have been by wide margins. Manly have had lean seasons before but this columnist cannot recall a time when they have collapsed so regularly.
Hasler and skipper Daly Cherry-Evans are wearing most of the blame and they know that comes with the territory. But the Sea Eagles have painted themselves into a tight corner if they want to make change beyond 2021. Apart from the fact Hasler has just been granted a contract extension, chairman and part-owner Scott Penn has made it clear he believes, like many, that it takes a Manly man to coach Manly. "We've won eight premierships with a Manly man in charge - all eight," he said upon Hasler's return to the club three years ago.
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At the moment, there is no obvious successor with the right DNA to replace Hasler. Penn has indicated Cowboys premiership-winning coach Paul Green may come in as some sort of consultant to Hasler, but we can't see the veteran Manly boss copping that for one minute. No, make that 15 seconds.
There's also suggestions Cherry-Evans should be moved on, but where to? The skipper is contracted until the end of 2023 on a deal worth $1.3m a year. Tell us another NRL rival club that's going to pick up that tab?
Crisis doesn't begin to describe it.
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