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Dear Penn People, Please read ... (and a quick quiz - who coached the losing u/20s team?)

Discussion in 'Rugby League Forum' started by Budgewoi Eagle, May 21, 2016.

  1. Budgewoi Eagle

    Budgewoi Eagle In for the long haul. Premium Member 2016 Tipping Competitor 2017 Tipping Competitor

    +5,820 /82
    Phil Gould opens up about personal cost of rebuilding Penrith Panthers

    Andrew Webster
    Chief Sports Writer, The Sydney Morning Herald

    A life in rugby league: Phil Gould. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

    If you've phoned Phil Gould at any time in the past five years, there's every chance he's answered the call sitting in his car.

    A meeting with a player manager here, lunch with a government official there, on his way to call a game for Channel Nine wherever.

    Or, more than likely, he's headed towards Penrith, the club where he played in the 1970s, won a breakthrough premiership in 1991 as coach, and in more recent times helped piece back together as general manger as the club teetered on the edge of oblivion.

    It is also the place Gould left two years after the tragic death of Ben Alexander in a car accident midway through the 1992 season.

    Alexander's brother, Greg, was never the same player again. Neither was Ben's best mate, Mark Geyer. As for Gould, the pain and bitterness edged him out the door to the Roosters.

    "Every time I drive to Penrith I think about it," Gould says. "That part of my life was extremely difficult. I think about it every day to be honest.

    "It's hard to talk about those days because we went from the highs to the lows very quickly. We won the club's first ever premiership then lost a special person in Ben in tragic circumstances the very next year. I loved Ben. I was very close to Ben. The damage it did to everyone at Penrith, not just his family and close friends, was enormous.

    Gone too soon: Ben Alexander was killed in a car crash in 1992.

    "That was a heartbreaking period for the club. Ben's death took its toll on so many people, and we were never the same people again.

    "I love where the club is right now. I'm very proud of what we have developed. A lot of people have contributed along the way.

    "It's also great we have people here like [1991 hooker] Royce Simmons and Greg Alexander and Jim Jones and Brad Waugh … We have a lot of people who were here in the '70s, '80s and after that, who are still involved today. We have a number of ex-Panther players now working at the club. They love the place. That's what makes a club: the people."

    With Corey Payne now in place as chief executive, Gould will early next week announce he is standing down as Penrith's general manager of football after five years in the job. He will stay on as a consultant for the next four, navigating the club through a delicate period with its salary cap as its wealth of junior talent attracts greater interest from success-hungry clubs.

    Fresh blood: Penrith Panthers CEO Corey Payne. Photo: Edwina Pickles

    Yet it will be a dramatically reduced role as the 58-year-old concentrates on other areas of his life. And that is something he needs to do.

    If I know the man at all, he enjoys talking about himself as much as seeing a straight-forward try sent to The Bunker for approval. Cut from the same cloth as a Bennett or Fulton, old footy coaches give very little away about their football team and just as much about themselves.

    The rebuild Gould has achieved at Penrith – from a club close to insolvency with a shambolic salary cap and losing the fight with AFL in Sydney's west, to an emerging premiership force based at a new $21 million academy – has come at a personal cost.

    "Last Monday, when Corey started, it was five years to the day that I started at Penrith," Gould says. "It's pretty much been 24-7 all the way. That's a long time out of your family's life, your kids' life, your own life. In that time, I've had the deteriorating health of my father who passed away in January, the cost of working that long and hard, but they're all personal things and sacrifice you make.

    "Don't get me wrong. I've loved every minute of it. It's been a rewarding period of my life."

    Premiership success: Phil Gould is jubilant after guiding the Panthers to the title in 1991.

    Bruce Gould was a hardened Sydney copper for 38 years.

    What did he teach his son?

    "Everything," says Gould.

    Similar man?

    "Better at everything. He tried at one time to make me a policeman. I was off the rails when I was younger: I was a professional football and studying at university, but then I had a run of four seasons in a row with serious injuries and I lost direction. He dragged me by the ear down to the police station and I passed all the tests but I was colour blind. The thought of being a father myself always intimidated because I didn't think I could emulate what he had done for me. I could never be what he was."

    In January, at the age of 82, Gould's father passed away after battling dementia for 10 years.

    "I haven't had time to deal with it, no," he says. "A lot of families go through this but until you do you don't have an appreciation of how painful that is for everybody. I said goodbye to Dad three years ago when he could still communicate. I wanted to say those things to him.

    "It's not just Dad, it's Mum. They've been together since they were at high school. Dad was 82. When he passed away in January, there was a sense of relief because I didn't like seeing him the way he was and him living where he was and the drain on Mum.

    "But no doubt there's an unbelievable sense of loss, which I've dealt with in my own way because I've had an extremely busy off-season: a new coach, new management, a new season to prepare for …"

    His health is always a great sense of gossip around the game. Even those closest to him never know entirely what's going on. On that note, though, Gould reports he's OK.

    "I've got some things I need to get fixed, that will come with less workload and stepping back," he says. "There's no doubt there are some things I have to address but I don't want to talk about all that. I really haven't had time to deal with it. I'm not making myself out to be a soldier, not by any stretch. I've just pushed through and kept going but it's time I fix that stuff up."

    Panther pride: Mark Geyer and Greg Alexander after the 1991 grand final over Canberra. Photo: Palani Mohan

    Gould took on the job at the Panthers with the mandate from the club's frustrated board to nurse through a new coach. If only it was that simple.

    The decision had already been made to sack Matt Elliott, and Gould was expected to advise and mentor a new, young coach as he'd done with Ricky Stuart at the Roosters in 2002.

    Within days, it became clear the job was much larger. The Leagues Club was $100 million in debt and going backwards. Investment in the football program had been reduced to bare essentials only. There had been no development or recruitment strategy for many years. The salary cap was a mess and there was no "Panther" culture in the place.

    Gould went home one night and bluntly said to his wife, June: "I don't think I can fix all this".

    Because of his profile, Gould also became the face of rugby league's battle for hearts and minds and membership and merchandise with Greater Western Sydney, the newly created AFL franchise that had truckloads of money behind it and an Energizer Bunny public relations figure called Kevin Sheedy.

    It remains fertile battleground – it's estimated Western Sydney will have a similar population as Brisbane within 10 years – and it's a long way off being won.

    "As soon as I signed with Penrith, someone wanted to make out this was rugby league fighting back against GWS and Kevin Sheedy … I was never there to do that. When I got there though there was no doubt rugby league and the Panthers was way off the pace and that was something we had to get right. Two of our biggest challenges were the rise of the Western Sydney Wanderers and GWS. It wasn't about beating those other codes, it was about making sure rugby league didn't let this heartland area down.

    "I said to the NRL, 'You need to tell me what you want the rugby league franchise that looks after junior talent from Blacktown to Katoomba to look like'.

    Upset: the Panthers celebrate during the dramatic finals win over the Roosters in 2014. Photo: Getty Images

    "It was hard getting people's head around the real live challenge that was there – and still exists today. If Panthers was defenseless, then rugby league was defenceless, because Panthers is the only organisation capable of looking after this area. The administration of the day never fully understood Penrith's role in it. I said, 'If you're going to leave the fight just to Penrith, you are going to lose the west. You need to invest in Penrith and Western Sydney'.

    "To be honest, I don't think we've had that support. I still don't think the commission has genuinely got its head around what's needed out there. I don't think they understand the job Penrith has done out there. I'm still hoping they understand and come to the party. Everything Penrith has done so far, it's done for itself."

    And that includes the tough decisions.

    Early on, Gould nudged senior players Luke Lewis, Petero Civoniceva and Michael Jennings out the door. In came some older heads who weren't going to inspire the side to a premiership but could be relied on as the club held back and protected some of the best junior talent in the game.

    In time, more came on board. Dean Whare, James Segeyaro, Lewis Brown and Sika Manu were signed.

    "We paid a premium for those players because they took a gamble to come to Penrith at that time," Gould says.

    Then came more: Jamie Soward, Peter Wallace, Elijah Talyor, Jamal Idris, Brent Kite …

    The club shocked everyone when they made the top four in 2014 and then came within one win of reaching the grand final.

    "It was too early for us," he says. "We weren't really ready for that. It thrust our young players into the limelight a little too early, and that increased player values and managing the salary cap."

    Gould's approach allowed the club to nurture the booming talent that represent the Panthers' future.

    The club has won two of the last three under-20s titles. Their 2016 side leads the competition. Their SG Ball team just won the national title. Earlier this month, they had five players in the Junior Kangaroos and Junior Kiwis match. They had six youngsters in the City-Country clash. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak debuted for the Kiwis. On Monday, Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour and Bryce Cartwright are expected to be named in the NSW side for Origin I.

    There have been casualties along the way. Gould told Ivan Cleary when he arrived at Penrith from the Warriors that he didn't care if the side ran last for two years, as long as he gave it culture and pride.

    Late last year, he sat the coach down and told him his time was up.

    "While it was difficult for me and a heartbreaking decision, in my own mind I believed it was the right thing: for the club and for Ivan," Gould says. "It was just time. I wish he could've gone on longer, because he did a lot of great things for our club during that really tough period. He's a great coach and a wonderful person. But I knew in my heart it was the right call for his career and for Panthers. They're the decisions I've seen other clubs not make at various times and paid a price in the long run. We just had to do it. It was my decision."

    As Gould steps back from the frontline at Panthers, the parallels with 1991 are too tantalising to ignore.

    "Back in then, we had a theme about Penrith wanting to be somebody," he says. "There was an element of Penrith coming of age as a football club."

    They also did it with a bunch of old weights Gould had in his back shed. Five players used them that season and four went on the Kangaroo tour that year.

    Cut to the massive state-of-the-art sandstone building behind the Panthers Leagues Club, with cameras in the lights of the training field and a weights room the size of a footy field.

    "This [is] a tough club, mate," he says. "And it's shown a lot of toughness in the last five years. Nobody here uses a bundy clock. They're here because they love it."

    He says it again.

    "That's what makes a club: the people."
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    • TerryRandall

      TerryRandall Well-Known Member

      +4,458 /82
      That is a great article. I have always had a lot of time for Phil Gould and honestly believe he is just about the best person there is in league, full stop. Always makes sense, always speaks the truth and always does it with the best interests of league at heart. I live in panthers territory and they are my second favourite team. The club is a true footy club and what the league should be using as a model elsewhere. They embody league in the west much more so than the shambles down the road at parramatta. I remember the early 90s era and was at the leagues club the night they won the gf in 91, what a night that was, only to be followed a few short years later by the Ben Alexander tragedy. The club lost its way after that, but what Gould has done to restore the club has been great to watch. I think they have a great first grade side in the making, full of juniors with talent and passion. I wish we had approached our rebuild in the same way, rather than going outside the "culture" looking for a quick fix. I realise we don't have the same juniors as penrith, but I think we have the balance wrong.
      • Agree Agree x 3
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        Last edited: May 21, 2016
      • SeaEagleRock8

        SeaEagleRock8 Sea Eagle Lach Staff Member Premium Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

        +10,561 /215
        He should have Greenberg's job.
        Anything to get him off Channel 9!
        • Agree Agree x 4
        • nightster

          nightster I feel like a young girl from Melbourne Premium Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

          +3,178 /78
          "It's also great we have people here like [1991 hooker] Royce Simmons and Greg Alexander and Jim Jones and Brad Waugh … We have a lot of people who were here in the '70s, '80s and after that, who are still involved today. We have a number of ex-Panther players now working at the club. They love the place. That's what makes a club: the people."

          its just what we have lost .... and doesn't it show!?
          • Agree Agree x 8
          • BOZO

            BOZO Well-Known Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

            +7,395 /390
            The 5 year success plan lol . What a load of crap !!!

            2015 Penrith finished 7th
            2014 4th
            2013 10th
            2012 15th|
            2011 12th
            • Agree Agree x 1
            • TerryRandall

              TerryRandall Well-Known Member

              +4,458 /82
              I a
              mate - the panthers are in a lot better shape than they were 5 years ago. They haven't taken the easy yards like most do - splash out on big name mercenaries bankrolled by their huge licensed club (which they could easily have done) but instead rebuilt the place from the ground up, with focus on their juniors and re-engaging with their community. We are in no position to laugh at them, believe me.
              • Agree Agree x 3
              • BOZO

                BOZO Well-Known Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

                +7,395 /390
                They can build all the sand castles as they like but unless they build a team of NRL premiers it means nothing feathered friend .
                Phil Gould's 5 year premiership Penrith Sand castles !!! LOL :):) :) :) :)

              • sheridanstand78

                sheridanstand78 Well-Known Member

                +4,867 /73
                This is a very smart article and what he has done there is fantastic. Mind you I would not mind a club as big as they have pumping in money a junior district that is at least 5 times bigger than ours a facility that the government has just built them as well. There are no excuses for them. I predict they will be a force for years to come with the wealth of talent they have.

                The parallels to our club are interesting. We had a culture of success and how we are again searching for the formula, we have seen so much change over the last 2 years and so far little return for that change. I really cringe when I think that we squandered an opportunity as a club to bring through a batch of players and a coach from our 20s system. We missed a trick there and the 20s team have returned to their previous mediocrity.

                You see our first team struggling like it is now but where is the depth in our club, our minor grades have been DREADFUL!! this year and there no pressure being applied to the first graders.

                The last 2 weeks have shown that we are light years from the standard of what is required to win a premiership.
                • Agree Agree x 1
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                • Terry Zarsoff

                  Terry Zarsoff Well-Known Member

                  +6,221 /100
                  And yet less than three years ago Manly came close to winning its ninth title.

                  What happened? Oh, that's right...
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                  • manlyfan76

                    manlyfan76 Parra Trolls are the best. Premium Member 2017 Tipping Competitor

                    +8,059 /174
                    "we squandered an opportunity as a club to bring through a batch of players and a coach from our 20s system. We missed a trick there"

                    That was a massive blunder sheridan stand.
                    • Agree Agree x 1
                    • Loobs

                      Loobs Scott Fulton’s 5th Cousin Premium Member

                      +9,074 /306
                      They should win the u20's every year with their junior base. Their problem is retaining the kids.

                      Really, who gives a **** if you win under 20's every year but the kids bolt because a) Penrith sucks and b) once you're off contract you're free game?

                      Let them keep pumping out the juniors and then everyone else can poach the good ones.

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