NO coach will start the 2018 season under more pressure than Anthony Griffin and Penrith legend Ryan Girdler says it won’t take long for fans to see whether the apparent instability at the club will bring him to his knees.
The Panthers have made headlines for all the wrong reasons over the off-season, with Matt Moylan’s strained relationship with Griffin eventually resulting in a release and Bryce Cartwright’s departure coming soon after.
Tyrone Peachey is the next big name headed for the exit and the glut of contracted players leaving the club has opened the door for people to draw their own conclusions about divisions in the dressing room.
This week a Wide World of Sports report said Griffin would be given 10 games this season to prove he hasn’t lost the dressing room and Girdler suggested it would take no longer than that for it to become obvious whether or not the players were still united behind Griffin.
Speaking to foxsports.com.au at Triple M’s NRL season launch, Girdler said the bare minimum expectation on the Panthers for 2018 was a top eight finish.
He said that even if the club didn’t make a winning start, Griffin could stave off the axe if the players were clearly “putting in for the coach”.
“The fans will want to see that the players are out there putting in for the coach and the organisation,” Girdler said.
“If that’s the case early I think he’ll be fine, even if they don’t get the results.
“But if people get a sniff that the players aren’t putting in and there’s disharmony out there and they’re not getting results, then of course that comes with pressure.”
Girdler is still confused by some of what played out at the Panthers this summer and is especially disappointed with the departure of Moylan.
The premiership-winning centre rates Cronulla’s new five-eighth “one of the most talented players in the competition” and said it was concerning that he was allowed to leave without a proper explanation for the fans.
“I think retention and recruitment is a big focus these days for NRL coaches. I’m really not sure what happened with Matty Moylan, I think he’s one of the most talented players in the competition,” Girdler said.
“It was never really disclosed what took place and why he wasn’t playing at the back end of last season. That was a concern for me, being an ex-player and a fan.”
Girdler accepted that Cartwright was a different case, with the back-rower’s game declining badly over the last 18 months.
Girdler said the Titans recruit needed a change of environment so he could “focus on the fundamentals” and rebuild his game, with Phil Gould and Griffin allowing him to do just that with his mentor Garth Brennan.
However, Girdler has been puzzled by the lack of conviction from the club that has led to the likely departure of Peachey, who is all but certain to follow Cartwright to the Titans next season.
“I couldn’t understand the way Tyrone Peachey was used last year to be honest, because I think he’s definitely one of Penrith’s best 13 players but he found himself sometimes playing 10 or 15 minutes a game and for a guy of his age and his quality of player, I’m thinking he should be 80 minutes a week and pushing for representative honours,” Girdler said.
“I think he’s thinking he didn’t get the opportunity last year and it’d be hard not to agree with him, and I think he’s looking for an opportunity as well.”
The upside of a roster without Moylan, Cartwright and Peachey is the extra money under the salary cap the Panthers can allocate in their bid to retain gun halfback Nathan Cleary.
Having already knocked back a big long-term offer to stay with Penrith, Cleary is set to become a free agent in November this year and Girdler expects “10 to 12 clubs” to make a play for his signature.
The Panthers still have eight months to convince him to stay put but Girdler said that won’t happen unless Cleary can be convinced that there’s a stable and fruitful future for him at the foot of the mountains.
“He’s got an opportunity to become a club legend out there and everyone talks about the
Tigers but I think at the back end of this year and next year he’s going to have probably 10 or 12 clubs coming at him from all parts of the NRL,” Girdler said.
“He’s going to have a lot to weigh up and if I’m him I’d be looking to go to a club that’s going to be successful, has a good plan in place for the future and is a stable club, it’s a stable environment.”