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Unheralded Toovey on the cusp of history

He wasn't even among the four nominated for the Dally M coach of the year award but Geoff Toovey is now on the cusp of becoming only the fifth man to captain and coach the same club to an NRL premiership.
Unheralded Toovey on the cusp of history
by AAP

By Ian McCullough

SYDNEY, Oct 4 AAP - He wasn't even among the four nominated for the Dally M coach of the year award but Geoff Toovey is now on the cusp of becoming only the fifth man to captain and coach the same club to an NRL premiership.

Thrust into the Manly hot seat after Des Hasler's acrimonious departure to Canterbury in the wake of the 2011 grand final, Toovey's not only risen to the challenge of replacing a two-time premiership winner, but also deal with a boardroom that's seen more fractures than an x-ray machine.

Throw in his club being linked with the ongoing ASADA investigation and an emotive spray for the ages against referees that left him $10,000 poorer, it's fair to say the 44-year-old's time in charge hasn't been dull.

Victory over the Sydney Roosters on Sunday would etch Toovey's name in the record books alongside Sea Eagles legend Bob Fulton, who skippered Manly to the 1976 premiership before coaching the team to success in 1987 and 1996.

The feat was also achieved early last century by Balmain pair Bill Kelly and Arthur Hallaway and Jim Craig of Canterbury.

Many feared Hasler's exit would tear the heart out of the club after highly-rated assistant coach Kelly Egan and recruitment king Noel Cleal followed him to Belmore.

Sea Eagles centre Steve Matai admitted he was "numbed" when he heard of Hasler's departure.

But the Kiwi international said the smooth transition to the promoted Toovey, and willingness to listen to his seasoned playing group, have been key.

"Nothing really changed, training stayed the same. It could have been different if someone else came in, but because Tooves had been there since 2004 as Des' assistant we didn't change too much," Matai said.

"Had someone outside come in and changed it all around then we wouldn't have had the success we've had.

"He lets the boys voice their opinions and listens to us. If we say training is a bit too long he'll take it into account and the next day shorten it.

"They have to do that to keep the boys happy."

Veteran Manly official and current board member Peter Peters said the club had no hesitation in handing the reins to the man who skippered the 1996 premiership-winning team.

"When he came in it was difficult, but he was the right man for the job. There were never any thoughts about it," Peters said.

"We are a club that have never fired with an outsider coming in. All of our premierships have been won by blokes that have played and have a history and a knowledge of the club."

Peters first clapped eyes on the diminutive Toovey when he debuted as a teenager against a touring Great Britain side in 1988 and was convinced he was too small, only for the halfback to walk away with the man-of-the-match award.

"I remember broadcasting the game against Great Britain and I thought we'd brought the ball boy on," he said.

"I'd not seen him before, but I'd heard of this kid from Belrose. A tiny bloke with blond hair like a surfie boy ... but he was dynamic.

"His career blossomed and he was probably one of the toughest pound for pound competitors ever to play the game. He's a Bob Fulton disciple."

Should Manly see off the Roosters to claim a ninth premiership, the former NSW playmaker will become the fifth former player to lead the club to glory as a coach following in the footsteps of Frank Stanton (1972,73), Ron Willey (76,78), Fulton (87, 96) and Hasler (2008, 2010).

Peters believes those outside Sydney's insular peninsular will never understand the culture that makes the club successful and Toovey's famous media conference ref rant after a loss to South Sydney in Gosford earlier this year would have made won the approval of both Hasler and Fulton.

"Coaching is something where we have tried outsiders and it just doesn't work. We haven't even made the finals with outsiders," Peters said.

"Tooves was always born to be coach and captain this club.

"I think he's a quiet achiever and that blow-up at Gosford, which you could see coming from a million miles away, was typical Fulton and typical Hasler. He's a chip off the old block.

"The coaches here are 100 per cent behind their players and it's why we're successful. Even though we have problems at boardroom level it never extends itself to the playing group."

Peters believes Toovey would not be upset by the Dally M snub - award winner and grand final rival Trent Robinson, Souths' Michael Maguire, Cronulla's Shane Flanagan and Melbourne's Craig Bellamy were nominated ahead of him - and has now shown he's no longer in the shadows of Hasler.

"Last year the systems were already in place and the senior players were a powerful group," he said.

"It was like just doing what Dessie did. But this year he's become his own man.

"He's shown he's as good as anyone else tactically and he can inspire the guys around him as well as anyone.

"I've seen Des Hasler tell hierarchy where to go and I am sure we'll see Tooves do that.

"But you need that and we've got it - he's the boss."

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