Penrith Panthers: Sacking Anthony Griffin makes no sense at all

Where there’s smoke there’s usually fire, so are the Panthers really considering parting ways with Anthony Griffin? I hope not.

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Picture credit: Naparazzi

It’s a little too easy in this day and age to take shots at those amongst us who don’t carry the panache and easy personality of a rockstar. In the digital era, where every nobody and peanut with an opinion can ‘broadcast’ it to the world and feel validated and important, lining up and unleashing on a quiet, understated, unflashy guy is easy.

For whatever reason, Anthony Griffin has never enjoyed the universal approval of Penrith fans. 

From the minute he came down from Brisbane and slotted in as Phil Gould’s hand-picked successor to the recently deposed Ivan Cleary, Anthony Griffin has had less than full support from the Penrith faithful and that small minority grow steadily with each loss, every perceived let-down or dropped point gives rise to the easy and sensationalist option, ‘sack Griffin and get on with it.’

Despite often having no better suggestion to replace a man who has guided the normally erratic Panthers to a finals series in his first two seasons at the club and looks set to do so again in 2018 than a return to previous mentor Ivan Cleary or a dip onto the coaching Merry-Go-Round to bring in an old-hat like Des Hasler or Geoff Toovey, each Penrith stumble allows more and more social media trolls to caw and cackle.

No imagination, the flair game

The easiest critique of Anthony Griffin’s coaching style is that it lacks flare. Much like the man himself, Hook’s coaching philosophy is very of much of the clean-cut, Queensland country boy, meat-and-potatoes mould and with their raft of gifted and exciting youngsters, the Penrith faithful often yearn for more.

It’s always easier on the eye to watch your team throw the Steeden around with reckless abandon, riding each offload and risky cut-out pass like it’s in the last race at Randwick on a pretty tough afternoon of punting, but as Penrith fans should have probably learned by now, all the free-flowing footy in the world doesn’t bring sustained success.

Penrith’s 2003 Premiership triumph was built around an attacking style of play that got the best out of creative talents like Craig Gower, Preston Campbell and Rhys Wesser, but it often came with a side of heart-attack footy, the ‘you score 30, we’ll score 32 points approach’ if you will and, simply put, that’s not the way to build a successful club in the mid to long-term.

For every shock 2003 win, there have been some bad years in Panther-land and you just can’t imagine that sort of erratic inconsistency from a Craig Bellamy inspired Melbourne Storm or the disciplined Brisbane Broncos sides of the 1990s led by Wayne Bennett in his pomp. 

Overcoming everything that 2018 has thrown at the club

If you’d pulled a Penrith fan aside in the first few weeks of pre-season and told them they’d be in and around the top four and challenging amongst the best sides of the competition through the final third of the regular season, they’d have taken that almost every day of the week.

Throw in the fact that the playing group would suffer a horrendous injury toll that would see the team play at some stages without a single member of the spine (fullback, five-eighth, halfback or hooker) that started the season and a handful of injury-related retirements from the game and they’d have been relieved just to be amongst the top eight and not preparing post-season holiday trips to Bali by the halfway stage.

Add to that again the fact the club would for the first time in a long time have to learn how to manage a raft of State of Origin representative stars coming in and out of camp and missing games due to Origin commitments and it’s a miracle this side are within a stone’s throw of the top four to be honest.

Anthony Griffin has coached his side through as much adversity as any coach in recent years and done it with the added pressure of blooding youngsters and rookies at almost every turn as well. Penrith have consistently fielded one of the youngest and most inexperienced sides in the competition and relied on youthful and inexperienced playmakers to play important roles in key games to get them through.

Sacked? If it weren’t for Anthony Seibold’s wonderful revolution at Redfern, Griffin would be my shout for Coach of the Year.

But there’s smoke, so there’s fire, right?

I was told recently by a close friend with good intimate knowledge of the club that Cameron Ciraldo, currently an assistant to Anthony Griffin and a highly respected up-and-coming coach was running many of the training sessions behind the scenes.

Add to that the growing belief that Phil Gould can’t keep himself from getting involved in the day-to-day running of the coaching and management staff and it’s easy to see why people might think Hook is a patsy or lame-duck coach waiting to get moved on.

If that were truly the case, if Hook was only just a figurehead these days, then the growing past-time of attacking him after a loss is patently absurd. 

When Penrith were winning games and defying the odds earlier in the season, few of these ‘Hook haters’ were giving the man credit, preferring to suggest that any good that came from the team was done by the players almost in-spite of Hook’s involvement.

Now, with a few losses and a fairly handy hiding at the hands of the Brisbane Broncos to dissect, we’re back to battering the coach and his tactics while simultaneously believing it’s the players who have been controlling the gameplan and a combination of Cameron Ciraldo and Phil Gould acting as a sort of shadow movement behind the scenes. 

What next?

I don’t claim to know what’s going on behind the scenes at the Penrith Panthers.

I’m lucky enough to have built some great relationships with people behind the scenes there, but even different people at the club or connected to the club seem perplexed as to where this continued crusade against Anthony Griffin has originated.

While it’s easy to see where the dissatisfaction with Hook is fueled, hello Buzz Rothfield et al, it’s frustrating to see so many of the Penrith faithful lap up the Kool-Aid all to easily.

I’m not going to sit here and suggest Hook is the perfect coach or even the right coach for Penrith moving forward, but what I’ve taken a long, hard look at it some facts.

Griffin has not once failed to reach finals footy in his time at the club, an achievement he’ll manage again this season and in that time Penrith have finally begun to hold onto the continuous crop of young talent it produces as the biggest junior rugby league nursery in the world.

Harnessing local talent has always been Penrith’s biggest problem. The last time they successfully managed to keep a big crop of juniors, it nearly bankrupted the club and left it in salary cap purgatory.

A few years down the line and the salary cap is not an issue, retention of talented players is working, players aren’t leaving the club and the team is challenging for a top-four berth.

Throw in an SG Ball competition win, a National Championship win and two high-flying sides in Jersey Flegg and the Intrust Super Premiership and the process is working. 

Why would you want to risk throwing it all away?

Do you think Anthony Griffin is the right coach to lead the Panthers? Let us know in the comments below.

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