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'Are you going to be a first-grader or not': Rev-ups send Saab into overdrive

"Are you going to be a first-grader or not?"

Des Hasler sat Jason Saab down more than a month ago for one of those honest Hasler conversations.

Saab and the Sea Eagles then went out and let Penrith rattle up 46 points on them.

Saab's 199 centimetres and albatross wingspan employing B-grade European basketball matador-style defence in one Matt Burton try, with the Panthers tyro cruising past him for another four-pointer.

Pierre Saab stopped coaching his son when he reached high school.

But he delivered some home truths of his own after that Penrith pummelling and a miserable first month at Manly.

"He said ‘son, can I talk to you without you getting annoyed?’ and I knew straight away what was coming," Saab said.

Every try from Round 9

"This was after the Penrith game so I thought ‘here we go’. He told me that it looked like I wasn’t putting my body on the line.

"It’s weird because when it comes from Dad, I get a bit cut and hurt, but if Dessie says it then I’m sweet. I think it’s because we’re so close so it’s a different relationship.

"He got up me and told me the way it was, but I already knew that. It ruined my Saturday. I know I’m not letting my family down, but I want to make them proud, so I carried that chat with me."

The difference in the Sea Eagles and Saab in the five games since has been stark.

Saab has a hat-trick

Tom Trbojevic's return as the most influential man at any NRL outfit has coincided with Saab bagging seven tries on the right wing, his average run metres rising from 84 to 137 metres in the four matches the star No.1 has been back.

Last week's 11-minute hat-trick against the Warriors was Saab's first at NRL level, but it was two telling defensive plays afterwards that truly made all the difference in a madcap 38-32 win.

Saab flew high, just as he's always done, to defuse a tricky bomb as the Warriors came storming home, before sliding and shoving 114kg winger Ken Maumalo into touch as a critical, game-levelling try loomed.

"Probably not," Saab responded when asked if he would have made such a tackle earlier in the year.

"… Most definitely not. At the start of the year I was a lost puppy [in defence].

"Ken is massive. He’s like me, but he’s built of muscle so he’s hard to take over the sideline.

Saab gets a double

"It wasn’t just the tackle - it was getting the process right that I’ve improved on according to the coaches."

Hasler and his staff opted to keep Saab in the NRL to work through his form issues rather than send him back to feeder club Blacktown.

It was the same perseverance to sign him throughout most of 2020 as he sought a release from the Dragons – "I had clubs in and out and in and out, but Des and the club committed" – that convinced Saab to push so hard for his Northern Beaches sea change.

Saab try has Manly back in front

Not for the first time, Hasler came in hard again when Saab's confidence was circling the drain.

"I was terrible at the start of the year and I don’t know if I’d have been good enough for reserve grade given the way I was playing," he said.

"It wasn’t said to me that 'you’re going to play in reserve grade blah, blah, blah'. Des and I had an honest conversation and it had to do with being what a first-grader is and putting your body on the line.

Get Caught Up: Round 9 must-see moments

"The honest conversation was basically you can step up to the plate, or you can let it discourage you.

"We had the conversation about 'are you going to be a first-grader or not?'

"Since that point, I’ve worked on it and improved. I just want to stay here – that’s my goal."