NRL: How 'father figure' Hasler solved Krisnan Inu riddle

By Steve Deane

In the buildup to Saturday's league test against Australia, we look at the revival of the Kiwis' troubled wing Krisnan Inu.

Enigmatic Krisnan Inu went from zero at the Warriors to try-scoring and field goal hero with the Bulldogs. Photo / Getty Images
Enigmatic Krisnan Inu went from zero at the Warriors to try-scoring and field goal hero with the Bulldogs. Photo / Getty Images

In early November last year Krisnan Inu sat down in Brian McClennan's office to plot the season ahead.

Inu had spent half of the previous season, under Ivan Cleary, languishing in the Vulcans before re-emerging late in the season to play a heroic role in the club's unlikely run to the grand final.

It was the ultimate down and up season, both for the club and Inu.

The new Warriors coach told the 25-year-old former Parramatta star that, as far as he was concerned, the slate had been wiped clean.

McClennan laid out what the enigmatic outside back would have to do to avoid suffering a similar fate in 2012. It boiled down to hard work, particularly off the ball.

Inu needed to produce an effort level that matched his teammates. The message appeared to be well received. "Kris is going good," McClennan told the Herald a couple of weeks later at a café across the road from the Auckland Domain, where the happy, supremely confident Warriors were working on their pre-season fitness.

But by the time the team played their first trial match against the Titans at North Harbour Stadium, the ground had shifted.

Playing at fullback, Inu produced his customary flashy touches to wow the enthusiastic crowd of over 10,000.

McClennan, though, wasn't happy. Inu's effort off the ball was terrible. The team ran plays which involved him chiming in at second receiver, but when the ball went through the hands, Inu was nowhere to be seen. The game plan broke down.

Inu was dropped for the next trial against the Rabbitohs at Coffs Harbour, and then left out of the first NRL match against Manly at Eden Park, repeating the cycle of 12 months earlier when he was snubbed by Cleary for the first match against Parramatta. In the end, Inu played just three matches under McClennan, the last of which was a disastrous outing filling in at fullback in Melbourne after Kevin Locke went down with an early injury.

He played just 21 matches for the club over a season and a half. It's doubtful any player has attracted quite as much scrutiny and debate over such a short span.

Inu became a topic of conversation, even for those only mildly interested in the game.

"When I watch Krisnan Inu play I tend to find myself thinking: 'What is going through that bloke's head'?" Herald columnist Richie Barnett wrote.

"He has that rare ability to turn games. But, sadly, the thing that really defines him as a player is his work off the ball - or rather lack of it."

Barnett was mystified by the way Inu consistently managed to disappear every time the Warriors were in a prime attacking position.

Having watched in increasing admiration as he turned his season around following a mid-season switch to Canterbury Bulldogs, Barnett is among the many who have revised their opinion of Inu lately.

A Kiwis selector, Barnett was a party to the decision to select Inu for the Kiwis squad to take on Australia in Townsville on Saturday - a decision that capped a remarkable journey from the obscurity of playing for the Vulcans on the Mt Smart No2 ground to playing in front of more than 80,000 people in the NRL grand final.

"A lot of people were thinking 'what this player needs is a bullet up the arse'," Barnett now recalls.

But what he really needed was a kind arm around his shoulders. Having snared Inu for an initial outlay of just $50,000 for the remainder of the 2012 season, Bulldogs supercoach Des Hasler was the man to give Inu the cuddle he needed.

The gamble paid off massively. Hasler inserted Inu straight into his line-up, and also handed him the goal-kicking duties. Inu responded with nine tries, including some typically freakish efforts, 55 goals and two game-winning field goals - the first of his career.

"I owe it all to the opportunity that Des gave me, having that chance to play regular footy in the NRL," Inu says of his zero to hero transformation.

Inu was a strange study during his time in Auckland. His super relaxed on-field approach was simply an extension of his personality. As an interview subject he resembled a thick-skinned jelly - you could poke and prod him all you like without ever piercing the surface and, no matter what, he always bounce back to the exact same shape.

So the revelation in an interview with the Herald this week that he sees Hasler as "father figure" is downright astounding.

"I'm grateful to be where I am," he says, citing Hasler's "massive show of faith" as the key to unlocking his undoubted ability.

"The way footy works, you get your shot, you play well and you get your chance. When you get those chances you don't want to mess it up, especially under Dessie - he's such a great mentor. I just wanted to do right by him, playing as well as I could week-in, week-out."

Hasler is more famous for fiery door smashing raves than encouraging, quiet words. But that appears to be a carefully crafted public persona. Where the likes of Michael Hagan, McClennan, Cleary and Steve Kearney have all failed to get much out of a player who as a junior was considered more talented than Jarryd Hayne, Hasler has immediately sensed which buttons to push.

"Obviously he's been there and done it all and he knows what he is talking about," Inu says. "He is really footy smart and I'm blessed to be playing under him."

Inu even seems to appreciate the odd Hasler blow up.

"He wants to make his point. Some people are like that and some are real calm about it. That's just the way Des is. If the message gets in your head ... that's the way it is. But he's not always like that, he's real calm, a father figure, especially for myself. People don't see that, what we see at training every day behind closed doors. We're fortunate that we get to see a side of him that others don't."

There was an element of last chance saloon in his switch to Canterbury, Inu readily admits. Had he bombed out of Belmore, it may well have been the end of the line.

"I didn't want to be a person who changed clubs every year. I wanted to find my home and I feel that I've finally found it at Canterbury and I'm grateful for that."

So comfortable is he with his new surroundings there is even a joke about getting over a third grand final defeat in the space of four seasons.

"Well, I've had three chances of doing it so I'm sure I've nailed it now," he says with a laugh.

The key is letting go. There's no point carrying it around with you. That pretty much sums up the Inu philosophy. It might not sit well with most footy coaches, but for those prepared to accept his uniquely relaxed personality and occasional astonishing gaff there is a tremendous upside to be exploited.

In camp ahead of Saturday's test, Inu says he hasn't received any special instructions from Kearney - a coach who has never appeared to have much time for his recalled back.

"Obviously he's just like any other coach, he wants the best out of you," says Inu with a shrug.

That is a riddle only Hasler has so far been able to solve.

Highs and lows

April 2007
Makes first grade debut for Parramatta against the Raiders at the age of 20. Runs for 119m, making two linebreaks as the Eels coast to a 38-6 victory.

April 2007
A shock call-up into Brian McClennan's Kiwis side, Inu makes his test debut at fullback just 13 days after making his first grade debut. The Kiwis are hammered 30-6 and on his return to Parramatta, Inu is sent back down to reserve grade.

June 2007
Returns to the Eels' first grade side for the round eight match against the Roosters, scoring two tries. Holds his place as the Eels' campaign finishes a game short of the grand final with a defeat to Melbourne. Narrowly loses out to Israel Folau in Dally M rookie of the year voting.

March 2008
Injures knee in first game of the season against the Bulldogs, missing the first half of the regular season. Returns in round 12 but the Eels miss the finals, finishing 11th.

May 2009
After the Eels start 2-4 Inu is dropped for the first time. He returns to the line-up in round 10 and plays a key support role as the Jarryd Hayne-inspired Eels make a dramatic late run to claim the last playoff spot.

October 2009
Plays in first grand final as the Eels fall just short of completing the fairytale. Having knocked off the Dragons, Titans and Bulldogs, the Eels go down to the Storm 23-16 in the grand final. The Storm's title is later stripped due to salary cap cheating.

May 2010
The Warriors announce the signing of Inu and Eels teammate Feleti Mateo for the 2011 season. The Eels unravel to finish 12th, and coach Daniel Anderson is sacked.

March 2011
Having failed to impress Ivan Cleary in pre-season training, Inu is left out of the first game of the season, marking the start of a turbulent 18-month stay at the Warriors.

March 2011
Makes Warriors debut on the wing after an injury to Glen Fisiiahi, scoring a try in a defeat by the Tigers. Plays 13 matches in a row, scoring seven tries, but blots copy book by showboating against the Rabbitohs, blowing a try by slowing down and poking his tongue at chasing defenders.

June 2011
Shifts to centre for the trip to Townsville to face the Cowboys. The Warriors are smashed 30-10, with Inu dropped to the Vulcans the following week.

September 2011
After a 10-match absence Inu's banishment finally ends with a recall to face the Dragons. He scores a try in a narrow defeat and two more the following week in a victory over the Cowboys. But that isn't enough to save him from the axe when Manu Vatuvei returns for the opening finals match against the Broncos - which ends in a humiliating 40-10 drubbing.

September 2011
An injury to Joel Moon earns a recall at centre for a sudden death game against the Tigers. After conceding three first half tries the Warriors hit back but still trail with two minutes remaining. A towering bomb drops from the Sydney sky, Inu juggles, regathers and slithers over for a try that will ultimately send him and the Warriors to a second grand final.

October 2011
A second grand final appearance ends in disappointment with the Warriors beaten 24-10 by Manly. Inu's biggest moment comes when he sparks a breakout from his own in-goal area, but he is stripped of the ball in a tackle and Manly score from the resulting possession.

October 2011
Called into the Kiwis as a late replacement but withdraws from the touring party citing personal reasons.

March 2012
He started with a "clean slate" under new Warriors coach Brian McClennan but it's déj� vu for the first round re-match with Manly, with Inu left out for rookie Ben Henry. He makes a brief appearance off the bench in round two against the Eels but then doesn't appear again until round seven.

April 2012
The worm appears to have turned again when he makes a try-scoring return in a thumping 44-22 victory over the Rabbitohs. But a week later it all unravels as an early injury to Kevin Locke sees Inu switched to fullback. He has a shocker, the low moment being a loose one-handed carry that turns into the winning try for the Storm. It's his last appearance in a Warriors jersey.

May 2012
After languishing in the Vulcans, Inu is snapped up by the Bulldogs on a 3-year deal, with Warriors paying all but $50,000 of his $325,000 salary for 2012. It turns out to be a great piece of business for the Dogs, with Inu scoring nine tries, kicking 55 goals and two match-winning field goals in 16 matches to help guide his new club to the grand final.

October 2012
A third grand final appearance with a third club in the space of four years ends in defeat, with the Bulldogs strangled 14-4 by the Storm. Two days later Inu's rehabilitation is complete when he is recalled to the Kiwis for Saturday's one-off test against the Kangaroos in Townsville.

- Steve Deane

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 20 Oct 2014 22:49:40 Processing Time: 407ms