Penrith’s annus horriblis – my take on affairs

In 2003, the Penrith Panthers defeated the Sydney Roosters 18-6 on a rain soaked Sunday night in what has been lauded as one of the great National Rugby League grand finals. It was a triumphant occasion for a team representing the typical outer western Sydney battler – gritty, full of passion and full o determination.

Nearly four years later, a Panthers fan like myself can only wonder and lament as to what has gone so wrong. As of today, despite snapping a 5 game losing streak with a 30-20 win over a depleted Bulldogs side that became even more wounded as the 80 minutes progressed, Penrith are, as they are in relation to the Blue Mountains, at the foot of the NRL ladder. Hope is lost for making the finals, stalwarts of the club are either wanting out or are being forced out, and the first year of Matthew Elliott’s tenure is proving to be a nightmare.

Clearly, it seems that things have gone too far for the club to find a short term and immediate remedy to these disastrous problems, but had some simple things happened (or not happened), I don’t think the Panthers would be having as horrendous a season as they have had this year.

Firstly, Craig Gower should have been let out of the club much earlier than a few weeks ago (when he signed a contract to play rugby union with a French team, seemingly conflicting with his own statements to the 2GB Continuous Call team that he would be fulfilling his contractual obligations with the Panthers). To me, 2 things have been evident:

  • He’s well past his best football by a couple of years, currently lacking the penetrative kicking game and vision that quality halfbacks need to succeed in the game.
  • Several controversial occurrences over the past years have obviously affected his reputation, and thus the manner on which he is viewed as a role model by many in the Penrith area

Peter Wallace has been discovered this year, and proven himself to be a potentially quality player. However in a mind boggling decision, he’ll be heading up to Brisbane in 2008 (along with Joel Clinton) and will probably go on to bigger and brighter things. Add to those 2 departures the questionable telling to Tony Puletua and Luke Priddis (Priddis’ possible departure I don’t have too many arguments with, because I think he’s past his best) that they can find new clubs for 2008, and you have an unsettled squad leading into a new season, and some rather iffy new signings (with the exception of Petero Civoniceva, although it still seems like an impulse buy and could have been money better spent on 2 other players).

Secondly, what’s with the chopping and changing of the side? Cohesion has been something that hasn’t been given the chance to created in 2007, because of something akin to the rotation policy employed at times by the Aussie one day cricket squad. Some may defend the policy saying that the Jersey Flegg and Premier League sides are doing so well (both teams in the top 2 of their respective competitions), but taking the jump up from Premier League to first grade is still a tough ascent, and having such relative inexperience in the side isn’t going to help.

Finally, the coaching and backroom staff need to put their heads together to arrest this downturn. They need to assess whether the current uncertainty is a good thing to have hanging over the club’s head in these latter parts of the season, and whether they’re getting rid of the wrong people. They need to see how they can instill a sense of pride in the Panther, and motivate the team to put their whole into each game. It’s the same for all other 15 clubs – if they’re going to do well, they need to have the pride in their club that motivates them to go out to win every week. Talent only makes up so much of any sporting team – elite athletes need the heart to win, and I don’t know whether this Panthers team has the same sort of heart that they had back in 2003.

I can only hope that 2008 proves me wrong.

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One Response

  1. Gee you write well, well said

    you should do some journalistic work (reviews from sydang or something), fair dinkum

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