In the most maddening month of rugby league coaching madness so far, with as many five clubs uncertain who will be in charge next season, the safest bet is Des Hasler to Manly.
Hasler met on Monday with his manager, George Mimis, who is currently the busiest man in the city because he also looks after Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary and Broncos mentor Wayne Bennett.
The Sea Eagles insist no deal has been done with Hasler, who left the club days after winning the 2011 grand final to take the big dollars at the Bulldogs.
Its a race in three but Hasler is miles ahead of Manly assistant John Cartwright and Jason Demetriou, who is Bennetts assistant at the Broncos. Demetriou was confident he was Brookvale-bound until the phone stopped ringing a week or so ago.
Manly havent spoken to former coach Geoff Toovey nor Roosters assistant Jason Taylor and they are furious with Michael Maguire after he declared hed knocked back an offer to join them. They say they walked away from negotiations because they couldn't come to terms.
So the smart money is on Hasler coming home to Manly, leaving club management to mop up the mess surrounding their current coach Trent Barrett, who put in his notice late last season.
“All I have done is get briefed by George Mimis and I will start to do some work on it in the next couple of days,” Hasler said. “Thats all there is at the moment. I only got back into the country last night. I am keen to coach in the NRL again and I will look at the pros and the cons of the offer.”
Manly expect to make an announcement about the coach by the end of this week. So do several clubs. The finger in the dyke appears to be the Broncos.
Penrith are hopeful Ivan Cleary will soon be released from the final two years of his deal with the Wests Tigers so he can join them when the pre-season officially starts on November 1.
The Tigers will only release Cleary if they find a replacement. They want Wayne Bennett, who has one year to run at the Broncos but wants out even if hes told his players he intends sticking it out in 2019.
The Tigers need a kill after chair Marina Go and chief executive Justin Pascoe told anyone who would listen earlier they would not be letting Cleary go early.
More than that, theyd told sponsors they were confident of also securing Clearys son, Nathan, the NSW halfback who has since signed a mega-deal to stay at Penrith.
Now they face the grim reality of not having both. Having Bennett, a seven-time premiership coach, strolling the dungeon-like corridors under Concord Oval will soften the blow.
Bennett, however, is adamant no deal has been done at the Tigers and I believe him.
Bennett likes money. He wont go to the Tigers unless hes on really good money, in excess of $1 million a year. And hell want some cash out of the Broncos, too. Thanks for that.
Maguire is the Tigers fallback option. And after his New Zealand side shocked the Kangaroos last Saturday night at Mt Smart Stadium, he mightve bumped up his asking price. That's how silly and reactionary the coaching market has become.
Souths, meanwhile, also want an answer from their coach, Anthony Seibold, by the end of this week.
Seibold is contracted until the end of next season but hes talking to the Broncos, who hes always wanted to coach. He has a very close relationship with Broncos chief executive Paul White, who has had a spectacular fallout with Bennett.
Many at the Broncos are convinced that Seibold is already stitched up at Red Hill for the 2020 season.
How many first-year coaches like Seibold refuse to extend their deal mid-season as Seibold did with Souths?
If a deal for 2020 is done, dont be surprised if Souths let Seibold walk early and start looking towards the future.
They wouldve had a walk-up replacement in assistant coach David Furner, but hes signed with Leeds in the UK Super League.
Theres an old saying in footy: if youre not part of the future, you cannot be part of the present. Better to rip of the bandaid fast to ease the pain.
Fair enough, too, but this coaching madness thats presently at play reveals how weak some clubs can be.
They want instant success. They will happily move on coaches with one or two years remaining on their deal, letting him leave so they can entice a coach to break a contract at another club.
It distorts the market. It angers fans. It bemuses players who are often accused of being greedy. The bottom line is it hurts the game.
Manly have been doing a great job lately of just hurting themselves.
They will argue that Hasler needs them more than they need Hasler because hes an out-of-work coach after being sacked by the Bulldogs — but they're playing poker with a bad hand.
Hasler is often branded “the mad scientist” because of his quirky mannerisms, but hes also the mad scientist who gets the job done. His premierships in 2008 and 2011 make him the Sea Eagles most successful coach since Bob Fulton.
Hes also distinctly Manly. He's very, very Manly.
With memberships and crowd figures in freefall because of the disaster under Barrett — an outsider who couldnt get a strong roster to fire despite, apparently, having the players support — the club needs someone with maroon-and-white in their DNA.
There have been discussions about just how much control Hasler would have because he cannot be the dominant figure in the club like he was before.
Back then, he had to be. The Sea Eagles board was riven with factionalism. The club spat out chief executives like watermelon seeds.
Hasler perfected the fine art of snubbing the front office, empowering and listening to some very strong senior players, making them all supremely fit, and then ripping the heads off the opposition on the way to wild success.
Des had the run of the joint then. It will be intriguing to see how he works alongside current chief executive Lyall Gorman, and how much more involved co-owner and chairman Scott Penn will become.
Chief Sports Writer, The Sydney Morning Herald