Generally, when I submit my blog to our esteemed editor Dan, I do it commenting on a situation that’s just happened, occasionally I will talk about history, and once or twice I’ve speculated about the future too.
This time however, I’m going to talk about something that’s happening right now, a situation so fluid that its practically a waterfall of conflicting information, claims and counter claims and a very public slanging match.
I’m talking of course of the Penrith Panthers and the frankly unbelievable sacking of coach Anthony Griffin this week. Firstly lets look at the history. Griffin took over the club in 2016 after Ivan Cleary had led them to an 11th placed finish and been sacked by new CEO Gus Gould. Griffin immediately started rebuilding, brought back prodigal son Peter Wallace from Brisbane, blooded a load of youngsters and finished a very creditable sixth in his first season in charge.
Last year they did well after a shaky start, but ultimately fell away to seventh on the back of some injuries and loss of form to key players, and this year they are currently sitting fifth, after performing two miracle comebacks in their last two games against Manly and Canberra.
On the surface of it, that’s hardly grounds for a sacking is it, finals every year he’s coached them, and looking strong with good form heading into the final two months of the season. What’s done for Griffin is our old friend “player power”, that’s to say he’s “lost the dressing room”. Rumours of this have been rife over here for a couple of months, and with a high profile media friendly CEO like Gould who is never off the Telly, Radio, Twitter and podcasts, the problem seems to have been magnified simply due to the opportunities journalists have to question him.
So now we have Cameron Ciraldo in charge at least until the end of the season, and the Panthers conducting a very public courting of the man who Griffin replaced in Ivan Cleary. If the Panthers were to win the NRL this year we could actually have Ciraldo as an eight game coach with a trophy to his name unemployed next year. Mental.
It all seems to be down to Penrith wanting to keep Nathan Cleary (son of Ivan of course) at the club. Here’s where the Tigers come in. With Ivan in charge he’s been very vocal about wanting to coach his son as his teams first choice halfback. The thought for Tigers fans is very appealing, we’ve (of course the Tigers are my NRL team, and the Panthers Dan’s) been desperate for a controlling halfback for years, and Luke Brooks could actually switch to a running Stand-Off role very nicely in most experts’ opinion. So, Nathan is out of contract in 2020 and the Tigers have been favourites to snare his signature. What I reckon has happened is Gould has spoken to Nathan and asked him what it would it take to keep him at the foot of the mountains and he’s replied that his dad coaching him is the only thing he’d stay for.
So by Wednesday this week the powder-keg had exploded. Gould was getting abused on the street by both Tigers and Panthers supporters, on twitter by everyone, and in print by more than a few commentators. His explanation was that Griffin was an old-style coach who wanted to do everything himself, the training, the tactics, the conditioning, everything, and that he wasn’t taking the advice of his peers, his assistant and of course his CEO, Gould himself.
Then the big blow up happened. Fox League give a live interview with Griffin where he refuted all of this, said that Gould was controlling, tried to coach the team over the top of him, had gone behind his back to unsettle his players, and hardly spoken a word to him in months. Its also come out that when Gould previously sacked Ivan Cleary, his pitch to Griffin was that the club was in tatters, there was a drinking culture, no structures, and it would be vastly different to what he was used to. If this is true, Griffin has worked wonders in his time in charge, and put in place a structure that’s allowed a pathway from the juniors to first grade. Looks like he’s too rigid though and has ruffled feathers in the playing group. Shades of Peter Sharp with us really.
So, now to sum up, there’s an NRL club aggressively and publicly chasing a coach who is under contract at a rival that they previously sacked because of his apparent unprofessionalism, simply to try to keep their star halfback who happens to be his son. Paying out their former coach for the two seasons he had left on his contract, and willing to shell out compensation to the Tigers for the two years Ivan is still under contract too. By my reckoning sacking Griffin could cost the Panthers $10million. I know some of you that came over to watch Hull this year that made it out to the Leagues Club out at Penrith. It’s the largest club in the Southern Hemisphere and had poker machines by the hundred. In short, they can afford it.
As I said, by the time you read this it may all have changed…. The situation is “live” right now and I’ve waited until the last minute before hitting the send button. Whatever happens now, The Panthers will add a very interesting aspect to the finals this year, watch this space.
Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.
Rich – Twitter @pommyrich