It was early April 2017 when Anthony Griffin made a bold call to drop captain Matt Moylan after a night out in Melbourne.
Moylan, Peta Hiku and Waqa Blake were banished to Penrith’s Intrust Super Premiership side for breaching team protocol.
There’s never been any suggestion that the players misbehaved, but Griffin wanted to run a tight ship, maybe too tight, which sixteen months on ended with his termination by the Panthers.
Just two months later Hiku was released before the June 30 deadline and Moylan, despite the denials by club boss Phil Gould, was involved in a player swap with Sharks playmaker James Maloney in November.
Over the summer months speculation that Griffin’s relationship with players had gone south, with suggestions the majority of the squad were unhappy under his direction.
Moving into the pre-season trials and the pressure mounted.
I was there at Belmore that warm February evening. Track work on the Bankstown line meant buses and a slow bus ride to Canterbury’s sacred turf. Penrith dominated the first fifteen thanks to Reagan Campbell-Gillard before things went downhill.
I could see Gould and Griffin sitting in the open boxes of the grandstand. At half-time Griffin rushed to the sheds while Gould was heckled by a few lone Bulldogs fans as he headed towards the tunnel.
The pair didn’t return to their positions high in the stands in the second half.
The rest now is history.
After that poor showing at Belmore I must admit, the Panthers looked in all sorts against a Buldogs second-tier side. The fact they sit fifth going into the Women In League round is incredible.
Since the Dragons win, the Panthers have not reached their potential. They should have lost six from their last eight in reality had it not been for the comebacks at Lottoland, and last week against Ricky Stuart’s Raiders.
It was a bold and risky call to sack Griffin on the eve of the finals. Gus when appointing him said in the presser that he was accountable for the decision. This decision to end Griffin’s tenure was right despite the poor timing.
Where the accountability lays just a few years on is unclear. Does Gus make way because it was the wrong call given that he offered Griffin a long contract extension?
This is a messy situation.
Cleary senior has every right to tell his former GM where to go. Whether he decides to forgive and come back to the Panthers will be something closely monitored and scrutinised by the rugby league public in the next few years. Tigers fans rightly feel peeved about the situation. The poor giving to the rich.
With the Panthers returning to the footy field against the Titans on Saturday, fans will be hoping their side let their performance do the talking as they head towards a date in the Finals this September.