Two weeks is all it’s taken for Phil Gould to turn some curious, some may even say light-hearted chatter, about West Tigers coach Ivan Cleary uniting at a club with his son, Penrith and NSW Origin halfback Nathan Cleary, into a media circus.
It all started when Gould addressed rumours about Nathan potentially leaving the Panthers to link with his father at the Wests Tigers. There had been reports earlier in the season that both would relocate, as a package deal to the Broncos or the Roosters.
Gould responded by saying “I have an agreement with Nathan. If one day he says, ‘I want to go play with my dad’, let’s make it happen. I’ve got no problem with him going to play with his father whatsoever."This just fuelled speculation that Nathan would be leaving the Panthers.
All year, separate to this, were the never-ending rumours that Gould had fallen out with Panthers head coach Anthony Griffin. Gould played down talk of a rift and suggestions that Griffin would be sacked.
Nine days after Gould revealed the agreement between he and Nathan Cleary came the shock news, that Anthony Griffin had been sacked, just 4 weeks from the finals with the Panthers running in fifth place.
This dramatic event took place just days after a private meeting between Panthers chairman Dave O’Neill and the Tigers coach, the details of that meeting are widely speculated upon, but nothing has actually been revealed from either party.
To the casual observer, it looked apparent that Gould had hatched a masterplan to keep Nathan Cleary, get rid of a coach he hadn’t been getting on with and bringing in a quality NRL coach who just happens to be the father of Nathan Cleary.
It was a tick in every box.
The following day it was reported that Ivan Cleary had been verbally offered a 4 year deal to link with the Panthers, starting in 2019. Cleary himself revealed to Tigers officials that he had indeed been approached by Penrith.
Plan executed. It was meticulous. It was swift. It solved all his problems.Genius.
Pascoe, Tigers on the offensive
The Wests Tigers hit back, saying they would refuse to let Cleary go if he asked for a release, as he was just 18 months into his tenure at the club and still has another 30 months left to run.
Gould stated on the same day that Penrith had received 12 applications for the vacant head coaching role at Penrith, however, stated: "We have a preferred coach at this stage but that's not to say that's the one we'll end up with."
This statement only served to further justify speculation that Penrith were indeed chasing Ivan Cleary as their head coach.
Two days after he was sacked, Anthony Griffin appeared on NRL360 to talk about his axing and his relationship with Gould, which painted a picture of Gould meddling in the coaching duties, to the point that some may even consider his actions as undermining Griffin. This is just Griffin’s side of the story though.
Gould now has to deal with criticism aimed at how he has gone about this whole process, while trying to convince his ‘preferred coach’ that moving to the club is a good idea, amidst this saga. A club that will sack their coach just weeks away from the finals. A club that sacked their previous coach, ironically Ivan Cleary, because Gould believed he was ‘tired.’ A club that sacked the coach prior to Cleary as well, Matthew Elliott. All three men were terminated under the tenure of the same man, Phil Gould.
Swinging the axe
Two of the last three sacked coaches (Griffin and Elliott) were axed with no successor lined up. Cleary was cut at the end of the year which bought the club some time to recruit a new coach.
When Elliott was sacked, Penrith were just a win outside the top 8, with a finals chance still a very real possibility. The club though managed just 4 wins in their remaining 11 games to finish in 12th place.
When addressing the media after Griffin’s sacking, Gould responded to a question about the timing and the impact it would have on the Panthers Premiership chances in 2018, to which Gould replied “I’m not too worried about winning a premiership.”
So with the Tigers sticking to their guns and refusing to release Cleary, coupled with Gould adopting a policy of targeting one specific coach, who may not actually be available, Penrith will go into the finals under the stewardship of an assistant coach and a media storm that will surely encircle the club the whole time, to play for a Premiership that Gould isn’t actually interested in.
Do you think the Panthers were right to move on from Anthony Griffin? Can they succeed with Phil Gould at the helm? Let us know in the comments below.