Picture credit: News Corp Australia
On the surface, Penrith's tumultuous week is merely the sacking of a coach and a potentially bungled approach to an on-contract coach of a rival club, but as the bigger players in the game's broadcasting and media assemble around the narrative they prefer to back, Phil Gould, Anthony Griffin, Ivan Cleary and the Penrith Panthers have become nothing more than small, expendable chess pieces in a civil war long in the making and potentially bloody in the fallout.
Given his employment with the broadcaster as a commentator and media pundit, it was little surprise to see Channel Nine and the Fairfax press report much more from a Phil Gould perspective. His narrative was first eked out in an interview on 100% Footy on Monday night before his Six Tackles with Gus podcast allowed him further opportunity to further present his side of the case.
When I sat down with my co-host to record our own podcast, Panthers Weekly with Strawbs and Teach, we were quick to agree that beyond the standard two sides to the story, there are generally three sides, yours, mine and the truth or, in this case, Gould's side, Griffin's side and what actually went down following Penrith's Sunday defeat of the Canberra Raiders and the week of tumult and spectacle that followed.
Three sides to every story
Griffin aired his views in what appeared to be a fairly even-handed, steady interview on Fox Sports' NRL360 on Wednesday night, but the occasional softball questions, leading agenda of interviewers like Paul Kent and Paul Crawley, and the fact it came out afterward that Griffin spent over six hours preparing for the show with the hosts made the whole thing feel a little less authentic.
Throw in a clear and obvious chance for Fox Sports to bash both their major rival in broadcasting and covering the game of rugby league in Australia and one of their major on-air talents in Phil Gould, and it starts to look a little more like mud-slinging for the sake of it rather than trying to earnestly get to the bottom of what is both a gripping and tiring saga.
That Crawley and Kent both also work for The Daily Telegraph, owned by News Corp and in direct competition with Fairfax who have also employed Gould, and it starts to look much more like the beginning of more direct conflict between major media partners and the need to take a strangle-like grip on covering the game than anything else.
At its core, Penrith and the divisive Gould could probably have handled the departure of a coach who held a relatively successful track record at the club much better. If, as he says, Gould wanted to wait to the end of the season before sacking, or at least reviewing the position of Griffin but was forced into an immediate move by discussions between the club's chairman Dave O'Neill and former head coach Ivan Cleary, then it stands to reason that the necessary planning and preparation for a major personnel decision was probably not completed with the standard of due diligence you'd like a club like Penrith to have.
On the flip-side, Griffin's assertions that he was only sacked because the club feared he would win the Premiership this year and he'd become unsackable are patently ridiculous. Whatever Phil Gould is, and I have no doubt he is a controlling, dominating character, he's not spiteful enough to curb a potential Premiership success to get rid of someone he saw as challenging his authority.
A questionable narrative
For Griffin to then suggest the club was a shambles when he arrived and the development pathways from the game's biggest junior nursery weren't working raise questions over the legitimacy of his account.
Penrith had had lower grade success during Ivan Cleary's reign at Penrith and several key stars had gone on to debut before Griffin arrived on the scene. Most of the juniors he would then hand starts in the top grade had come through the very system he said was broken and in disarray.
Yes, Griffin played a clear and obvious part in the development of a number of youngsters in his time at the club, he even became thought of as a developmental coach, but to suggest he'd single-handedly turned things around plays more to the other side's narrative of a man unable to accept advice or input from coaching staff or management than it does Griffin masterminding a seismic shift in Penrith's junior development approach.
With all that in mind, it's fair to wonder if the media interest and pushing of two widely differing agendas has more to do with political point-scoring and swatting at a competitor than it does a genuine need to delve deeply into the saga.
Channel Nine, Fairfax, Fox Sports Australia and News Corp have seemingly come together in the ultimate stoush for coverage supremacy and the story, which would have been juicy and interesting at any other time has become the focal point, the political standing ground on which the parties and their uneasy alliances can assault each other and move further toward the ultimate goal.
It's not quite Cold War-style America and Russia stuff, but the brewing conflict has every chance to continue blowing over people and clubs as the uneasy alliances test each other out again and again.
Let's just hope there's no threat of Mutually Assured Destruction...
Do you think the media has fairly covered the Griffin/Gould saga or have sides cherry-picked preferred narratives to the detriment of altruistic journalism? Let us know in the comments below.
For more articles like this, take a look at our News page.