SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 31: Nathan Cleary of the Panthers looks dejected after a Roosters try during the round 24 NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the Penrith Panthers at Sydney Cricket Ground on August 31, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Following a disappointing 24-6 loss to the ever-consistent Sydney Roosters which has slammed the door shut on the Panthers’ finals hopes for 2019, the annual player dump and a lack of consistent thinking from the top-down has proven to be the undoing of the mountain men.

While the beginning of Phil Gould’s five-year planning is widely regarded as the last time the Penrith Panthers were in the dreaded rebuilding phase, the consistent roster and salary cap overhaul at the foot of the mountains in the past few seasons seems to fall more in line with a bottom four club looking for a quick fix rather than the consistent top eight powerhouse they are trying to become.

Following comments made by Knights legend Andrew Johns this week that Newcastle’s administration had “sabotaged” their season, a look into Penrith’s recent dealing has shown that the higher-ups in the Hunter Valley have got nothing on the consistent chaos that the Panthers have been dishing out.

Since the 2014 season, the Panthers have released 17 genuine first-graders from long-term contracts, including the likes of Waqa Blake, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Apisai Koroisau, Corey Harawira-Naera, Trent Merrin, Te Maire Martin, and Matt Moylan, who’s replacement James Maloney was ironically just released from the remainder of his contract. This does not even take into account the releases of local juniors and favourite sons Michael Jennings and Luke Lewis in the 2012 offseason, not to mention the four coaching changes they have gone through in the same time period.

While the end game of Gould’s five-year plan was no doubt a premiership, it placed greater emphasis on “overhauling a system that failed to take advantage of the biggest rugby league nursery in the country” and “rebuilding a club that had no money, no direction, no plans and no intention of executing anything but a stop-gap solution for short term success”, Gould told the Sydney Morning Herald.

This led to a complete overhaul of Penrith’s junior pathways, with only 20% of their roster being homegrown in 2012, as opposed to 80% being homegrown in their 2018 roster, the final full year Gould had at Penrith. While this new emphasis on promoting the best of their local youth is positive in terms of ensuring competition for places was high and keeping the senior players honest, it has forced the Panthers into a less than desirable cycle that they have been repeating since Gould took over the reins at Penrith.

Since Gould began, Penrith seems to have been un-consciously rolling through the same pattern that has ultimately led them to a bottom eight finish in 2019. That is, the Panthers consistently promote youth, which is often followed by success and good performances, resulting in an upgraded and extended contract with the club.

However, typically after a run of lean games or injury this player is released to ease salary cap pressure after the Panthers have once again promoted some of their youngsters who then need to be locked down to new deals. Then the cycle starts all over again. This has been seen in numerous players coming through the Panthers system in previous seasons, including Matt Moylan, Waqa Blake, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Bryce Cartwright, Corey Harawira-Naera, Te Maire Martin and Lachlan Coote.

On paper, this cycle is promising, if it is let to run its course. However, therein lies the problem, the Panthers never let it complete. Instead, they opt to chop and change looking for the next young quick fix, failing to let the current crop mature and become accustomed to each others style of play.

The last time the Panthers had a relatively stable roster with minimal pre-, and mid-season changes, was the beginning in 2014, with only under-performing stars Tim Grant and Lachlan Coote on the outer. The Panthers would go onto finish that season in fourth, go figure.

With new world-class facilities and largest junior catchment area in rugby league, the Panthers should have more to show for than two top-four finishes in 10 years, and if they are to improve on those results it would be wise to get out of the dreaded cycle they have found themselves in.

But with rumours of Reagen Campbell-Gillard, Dean Whare and promising youngster Jack Hetherington being shopped around to rival clubs following the releases of Waqa Blake, James Maloney, and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, I would not bet on Penrith changing tact anytime soon.

25 COMMENTS

  1. The article omitted what is the biggest problem Penrith will have to manage for the next 4 years and that is both Cleary’s.
    Iv, seems to be on a never to be terminated 5 year $5m contract, he has shown in 2019 what an overpaid,overhyped coach he really is, Penrith in 2019 have gone backwards, they have the worst attack in the comp in the red zone, they are one dimensional in attack. Its no coincidence under Iv the Tigers has the same attack in 2017/18.
    Nath has gone backwards as a half under the tutelage of his Dad. He is on $1m p.a. yet he can’t orchestrate a try for his team in the red zone…

    Good luck for the next 4 years…Penrith fans…

  2. FrankSpencer, why aren’t I surprised to see you commenting first? Us Panthers fans are well aware this season is a failure, however, the Panthers did make the semis for three prior.

  3. It’s always someone else’s fault. First it was Griffin, then Gould, then DWZ and now Maloney. Not precious little Nathan or Daddy Ivan??? Untouchable. Ivan has been very over rated throughout his coaching career and was a failure in his first stint at the club. What changed to bring him back for part 2??

  4. Well Panthers that reply was directed at you. Your the whinger and it goes right back to the Luke Lewis and Michael Jennings days. Anyone that has been on this site for over the last 5 years would vouch for that. It’s always someone else and it goes back a good 6-7 seasons.

    The coach of my team is garbage but you don’t see me blaming anyone but him. The decent player turnover at your club over the years is out of control and now it’s RCG and Whares fault….

  5. Although they failed to make the finals I think the Panthers had a positive year. They trimmed fat by getting rid of DWZ, Waqa Bake, Tim Grant and James Maloney. They replaced the backs very well and Maloney as good as he is, is very poor on D at times and gives away lots of penalties.
    Not to mention RCG looks out the door also.
    They must have a good amount of cash to spend with these losses and have a great young core (Edwards, Too, Naden, Cleary, JFH, Kikau, etc).

    If they can get rid of Whare there is plenty of young NSW centre available (Ramien, Scott, Aiken), they just got an experience starting hooker to fill their weakest position, will all that money maybe they make some moves for Nat Butcher, Daniel Saifiti, Tom Fleger or someone else. They had a terrible preseason and an ups and downs season but they will definitely be ready for us next year …. hopefully

  6. Spot on rev13, Penrith’s wounds are self-inflicted. I’ve lost count of how many players claimed were the next big thing and the future of the club have been punted a few years later. They keep rebuilding for no reason but their own short sightedness and constant upheaval of the roster. At least us dragons supporters freely admit we are a joke and have mostly been so since Bennett left. Also no one has predicted dragons as premiers for the last 6 years unlike Penrith.

  7. For once I agree with you redv13, panthers fans love to play the blame game. Ivan has always been a dud coach and always will be. Nathan isn’t half the player Maloney is. Maloney has achieved more in his career then both the Cleary ever will.

  8. As good as Phil Gould was with the internal restructure of the junior system & helping the club out of its money troubles. He was also terrible at negotiations for player contracts . Mostly way overpaying players he liked. Keeping players that should have been shafted years ago , for lack of pace & talent. Not keeping players that should have been kept.
    Such as Sivo, Harawira-Naera.
    You’ve got that they’re trying to shop around Whare , Hetherington, Campbell Gillard above. Should have given Whare & Mansour the flick years ago. No pace . Not very good.
    Hetherington … Where’s he playing now? Gillard’s not been as good since all the injuries. So big deal about selling them!
    The forwards they’ve had over the last few seasons have failed them. Made the 8, but never looked like bring them a premiership. We’re always well beaten by teams with better packs. Haven’t had a good running hooker , that’s looked dangerous in attack. Kenny’s a good , hard working player. Still learning the position, as he’s not a hooker.
    Having said all of that. Other teams just go out to buy a competition. Cronulla did, Feather Dusters bought another one last year & possibly this year. Even Melboune buy in virtually all of their players & had built the team around purchased talent. Newcastle tried to buy one.
    You can’t accuse Penrith of doing that. At least their mistakes , are mostly mistakes to do with players they bring through their own system & after the Video dramas at the start of this year . They were never going to do that well this season.

  9. Oh yes..
    Forgot to again mention Penrith being the most penalised team over the last 2 seasons. That’s huge!
    It means you’re up against the odds straight away.

  10. Funny comment about ‘ It’s always someone else’s fault ‘? The People named were all to do with Penrith & were at Penrith. So I guess it must be people’s fault , who were actually at Penrith. Or do you think mistakes made were the supporters fault?
    Even if letting DWZ or Blake go are to do with Ivan , or they just wanted to go. What do you want the club to do about that? Do you think they should keep players who want to leave, or have yet another coaching change?
    That’s right.. It’s always someone else’s fault , is a pointless, ridiculous comment!
    Yes, the most penalised team. That is someone else’s biased fault.

  11. Looks like I hit a nerve EastOfDivide. Good old Panthers Girl has been blaming everyone else going way back to the Jennings and Lewis days. Pretty sure the little legend Jamie Soward came in for some treatment too back in the day.

    Anyway, nothing new here bud, just her style.
    Maybe Saints can sack McGregor next week then bring him back in 2022 for another stint 🤞🏻🤞🏻🤞🏻

  12. redv13, you have not hit a nerve with me, for you to say that is laughable. Jennings, was a show pony, Lewis had a dummy spit. Maloney inhibits, Cleary. Look at your team before you pass judgement.

  13. Well pretty sure you were chuffed with Jimmy last year but anyway….He looked pretty good to me in origin this yr but hey we’ll see next year

  14. The panthers is a family club and focus should be on the local talent – that’s what the fans want… I agree with some of the other comments though – we don’t need to keep overhauling the system. A good 17 for panthers includes plenty of well priced junior talent and a few bought stars to help the rookies. E.g.

    1. Edwards
    2. To’o
    3. Naden
    4. Esan Marsters/Jesse Ramien/Curtis Scott/ Euan Aitken etc…
    5. S Crichton or Mansour if they can afford
    6. Luai
    7. Cleary
    8. JFH
    9. Koroisau
    10. James Tamou
    11. Kikau
    12. L Martin
    13. Buy a lock or move JFH to lock and buy a prop – Welch is cheap, Arrow or someone similar

    14. Egan/Kenny
    15. Either local talent, keep RCG or go in the market for cheap forward
    16. Leota
    1.7. Isaah Yeo

    There you have a decent team that doesn’t require too much change but will be so much better. I think that a never to be terminated contract for Ivan is a good idea – even if he ends up a not that great coach, penrith have 5 years of coaching stability and their young squad is less distracted with player and coach transfers – squad and coach stability is the answer..

  15. redv13
    I see St.George supporters on here all the time whinging about McGregor. Whinging about Dufty etc.
    Evidently, all the problems at St.George are the fault of the fullback & centre?
    Even though they paid a million for a halfback, who’s a better hooker than halfback.
    They may pay to get a former coach back, if his son is a decent halfback with potential? As they sure don’t have that now. Are the former coaches better than McGregor? McGregor at least had a pack of forwards that could win a competition. How’s that going now? Maybe they should consider a former coach? 👍
    St. George the most penalised team two years running? Let’s see how they’d go with that?
    Norman is fantastic, I hear from Saints fans at the start of the year. For what? One or two games?
    Lots of stories repeated on here about Penrith. As I said.. At least Penrith haven’t been trying to buy a premiership. The players lost are mostly players produced by the club. So , puts them one up on many other clubs .
    Andrew Johns is pretty chirpy about Penrith. Newcastle bought a whole team plus. They’ve done so well with that. Ditto for Gold Coast.

  16. Oh Yes redv.
    You went way back to Jennings, Lewis. Jennings thought it was a holiday camp at Penrith. Just stay out wide & don’t bother to put much effort in. At $600,000 a year , many would expect much more.
    He didn’t like being dropped & Lewis went to the media saying how he & other players didn’t think Jennings should be dropped.
    Hold on, I thought the coaches , management ran the club & decided who’s dropped & who’s in first grade? A few senior players then thought they ran the club . They weren’t doing well that year either!
    No club is going to put up with that crap.
    Or would you think that’s fine at St.George?
    So check out why players are released , before just dropping names of previous players.

  17. 1. Euan Aitken – Zac Lomax, Ravalawa winger
    2. Matt Dufty – Tristan Sailor
    3. Cameron McInnes – Hunt can play hooker
    3 players can be offloaded for good money and its good for club (salary cap space) and player (more time and juniors can come through.
    Agree anyone?

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