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Anthony Griffin isn't the victim in the Penrith saga

Phil Gould has denied he's been pulling the strings at Penrith. (Photo: Tony Feder/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
10th August, 2018
83

Every story needs its villain.

The trident-wielding figure who deceives us, twisting and distorting what is true. Then there’s the innocent victim, the bearer of all that is good and pure in the world.

There have been two main protagonists in this week’s story. Phil Gould and Anthony Griffin.

And there aren’t any prizes for guessing which one’s which.

However, the real victim out of this fiasco isn’t Griffin. And Gould isn’t the only villain either.

The Wests Tigers have obviously suffered after their club was dragged into the drama. It’s an unwelcome distraction as they look to continue their late charge towards a top eight spot.

But there’s another fatality from this soap opera. One that few have considered.

The Penrith Panthers themselves.

Criticise Gould all you want. He doesn’t care.

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But don’t bash the Panthers as a club for his individual actions. Especially without first considering Griffin’s role.

Phil Gould talks with Peter Wallace on the field.

Phil Gould has denied he’s been pulling the strings at Penrith. (Photo: Tony Feder/Getty Images)

Calm and collected, the former Penrith coach appeared on Fox League’s NRL 360 on Wednesday night to present his side of the story.

The online community rose in support for the unfortunate victim of Gould’s ego as the pitchforks came out for the Penrith supremo.

And sure, Griffin did handle himself well and claimed some responsibility, especially in relation to Matt Moylan’s demise.

However, very few people actually considered what he said and instead were charmed by his composed demeanour, not even thinking of questioning anything that he brought up.

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Like the fact that he claimed Penrith was a mess when he arrived in 2016 and that its junior development system was in a foetal position.

Outside of those who supported the club, everyone else remained blissfully unaware of how grossly incorrect this statement was. After all, Griffin did say it in a respectful manner.

The victim out of this interview was the Penrith Panthers. The club prides itself on developing its own players to be the best they can be.

In the reign of Matthew Elliott, before Ivan Cleary was brought in as head coach, only 20 per cent of the Panthers squad consisted of local products.

Fast-forward to 2018 and this number stood at 80 per cent, with the likes of Nathan Cleary, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Sione Katoa now regular first-graders after coming through the club’s lower grades.

During Cleary’s three-year coaching stint, Penrith had claimed two National Youth Competition premierships. They also won the New South Wales Cup in 2014.

Current first-graders Waqa Blake, Watene-Zelezniak, Isaah Yeo, Reagan Campbell-Gillard had all made their debuts under Cleary.

And 11 other juniors including Dylan Edwards, Cleary, Corey Harawira-Naera and James Fisher-Harris were already heading towards a similar path.

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Even further down the line, the Panthers had qualified for back-to-back SG Ball Grand Finals.

According to Griffin, however, “the place was KFC and run around the oval.”

In other words, during his time as coach, he had revolutionised the club’s development of its junior talent from lazy to the high-quality system it is now.

Former Penrith coach Anthony Griffin at a press conference.

(Photo: Mark Evans/Getty Images)

It is a claim that has been accepted by the majority of punters, simply because it fits their anti-Gould sentiments.

And you are most certainly allowed to hate Gould if you want to. But don’t extend that to the people who have worked too hard to get its development system to where it is now.

The club already spends around $2.6 million a year on its grassroots and junior rugby league development system.

This is the image that Penrith has branded itself around.

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Which brings me to Gould.

The 60-year-old has not exactly made this situation any better.

While he has appeared for several media opportunities to tell his story, the tune of his narrative suddenly shifted on Thursday night when he revealed completely new information about Griffin’s sacking, including his fractured relationship with new coach Cameron Ciraldo.

Choosing to air this on Channel Nine wasn’t a smart move. Intentional or not, the angry mob only hoisted their pitchforks higher in the air.

Again, people’s hatred towards Gould again extended towards the Panthers as a club, with some even going as far as to say that Manly had been usurped as the most despised team in the competition.

But can you blame him? When someone comes out and incorrectly criticises the club’s proudest achievement, of course Gould is entitled to provide a response.

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Cameron Ciraldo, the new caretaker of the side, has been interpreted as merely a puppet for Gould.

He may have led the Panthers to back-to-back grand finals in the Under 20s competition and later been promoted as head coach of the Italian national team.

But apparently, he isn’t his own man.

He wasn’t deserving of praise for his promotion as he was only selected to meet Gould’s own self-interests.

Penrith coach Cameron Ciraldo

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

People just haven’t looked at this objectively because of their hatred of Gould. And Penrith as a club are suffering.

Both Griffin and Gould have told fibs. It’s not possible that they haven’t given they continually contradict each other.

The truth in the chaos will be found somewhere in the middle. There is a third story to be told.

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Ultimately, the betrayal portrayed by the media this week is worthy of being performed in theatres alongside Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

Most believe this assassination was carried out by Gould.

If the Panthers fail to win a premiership within the next five years then perhaps they are right.

However, until then, let’s stop acting as if we know the truth.

Along with the Wests Tigers, there has only been one another victim from this week’s drama.

The Penrith Panthers as a brand.

And restoring that begins on Saturday afternoon against the Gold Coast Titans.

Gould can set up as many interviews as he likes. It won’t change anything.

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The club’s actions on the field in the coming weeks will speak much louder.