Makes for a good read. In essence, start with good people. Mayer, I don’t think this includes you. Hopefully our new board is a step in the right direction.
I’ve been asked many times in recent weeks to speak about the huge turnaround in the Panthers over the past few years.
Wow. Where does one begin to tell that story? I could write a book on our journey so far. Perhaps one day I will.
A quick summary would go something like this. We started from a very low base, we worked extremely hard, we’re proud of our achievements so far, but we still have such a long way to go.
After all, the road to success is always under construction. It’s fair to say that all levels of our business and football at Panthers have enjoyed significant improvements. How have we achieved this?
Well, the simple answer is, we employ good people. The men on our board of directors are passionate about the club. For the NRL to even suggest that any board members, elected by our club members, should be replaced with “independent directors” appointed by the NRL is nothing short of naive and disrespectful.
It will never happen. Of course, no football club can operate without money. The job that Panthers Group chief executive Warren Wilson has done to give this club financial security is nothing short of amazing.
At every level of our operations, we’ve recruited people of great character, expertise, initiative and commitment. We’ve created an environment where everyone’s efforts are appreciated.
Our basic philosophy is: “Respect the past – create the future.”
Panthers is a club where people work hard, play hard and never give up. It’s now more than three years since I accepted an invitation to return to Panthers and help to build a new football operation.
In that time I’ve refrained from speaking publicly about our work. At times it has been difficult to remain silent in the face of those who have been so vocal about what they believed was happening in our club.
In the early days such commentary was highly critical, or aimed at destabilising or discrediting our work.
People often criticise what they don’t understand. Anyway, let’s start by dispelling a couple of the myths which have been reported about the Panthers.
First, I’ve heard talk of Panther’s so-called “five-year plan” to win a premiership. What a load of rubbish. The term “five-year plan” is nothing more than media fabrication. I’ve never heard of such a plan at Panthers.
In the early days we may have indicated it would take at least five years to clean up the mess we inherited. However, no five-year plan to deliver a premiership has ever been discussed. It simply doesn’t exist.
We are working hard to build the professionalism of this club. We want this club to be a source of inspiration and aspiration to all kids.
In early 2012 we did introduce a plan called “Project 2015 — built from within”. The architect of this program was a gentleman by the name of Matt Cameron, who is now our high performance manager. Matt is responsible for overseeing this entire operation.
When I first spoke to him about working for Panthers, I told him I wanted to review and reshape our entire development programs. I asked him if he could make it happen.
I gave Matt a blank canvas to create his own program and his own job description. Within a week he presented a brilliant model for Panthers. I simply said, “Build it.” Matt has done the rest. He has been a key acquisition. Our CUBS participation program begins with kids as young as 12. The best youngsters will then progress to our JETS (Junior Elite Training Systems) and junior representative teams. We also have COLTS programs for late developers.
Not everyone makes it straight away. We are patient. Our first goal was to ensure our junior representative teams were always competitive.
Panthers is not a rugby league “franchise”. It is a junior league football club that also participates in the NRL competition.
We take great pride in our junior league performances. Last year our staff and players were rewarded for their hard work when our under 20s team won the prestigious National Youth Competition.
Our recruitment manager, Jim Jones, needs to take a huge bow here. Jimmy does an outstanding job. A Penrith man to his core, Jim leaves no stone unturned in the search for new talent.
In conjunction with these football programs, we run education and welfare programs. Shane Elford, Renee Selby-Jones, Cameron Ciraldo and indigenous development officer Glen Liddiard all do an outstanding job.
Panthers is a club of opportunity and development. Kids come here to fulfil a dream. We hope they also leave here with an education.
Next we wanted to re-establish our own NSW Cup team, playing in Panthers colours, as a vital link in the development pathway through to NRL football.
Our NSW Cup team played in the 2013 grand final. This year they are minor premiers.
I believe the strength of any professional football club comes in the depth of talent in its reserve grade. It is this depth of talent which has sustained the Panthers’ finals bid this season.
Our club has endured a horrific injury toll. Last weekend as many as 11 NRL players were unavailable for selection.
The consistent performances of our NRL team despite this crippling injury toll have been nothing short of outstanding. When we introduced the “Built from within” program in 2012, we decided a good measure of its success would be if we could get three kids to graduate from our junior rep programs through to the NRL top 25 playing roster by 2015.
On this score alone, we are way ahead of schedule. Matt Moylan debuted in the NRL last year. In 2014 Bryce Cartwright, Isaah Yeo, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Keirran Moseley have all made their NRL debuts and announced themselves as long-term NRL players.
We have more to come in the next 12 months as well. In the long term, we hope that eventually 80 per cent of our NRL roster (20 out of our top 25 players) will have come through our Panthers development pathways to the top level.
Realistically, this could take more than 10 years to achieve but this program will provide the foundation for future sustainable success.
Of course a major part of Project 2015 was the building of a new, state-of-the-art rugby league academy. Construction should be completed by mid 2015.
Second, I also hear a lot said about Panthers implementing some kind of Moneyball recruitment strategy.
I don’t even know what Moneyball means. I haven’t seen the movie. But from what I understand of this philosophy, nothing could be further from the truth.
Our recruitment strategy has not just been about buying talented individuals. Our aim has been to recruit key components of a winning team.
These players haven’t come cheap and to my mind they have all been highly talented individuals. They were perfect for what we needed.
We celebrated every signing as a major step along the way to the club’s long-term success. The most important factors in our recruitment have been the personality and character of the players involved.
Every player we’ve recruited at Panthers over the past three years has been extensively interviewed and recruited with a specific role in mind. To their credit, and to our immense appreciation, every player has delivered to our team.
Much of the credit for the wonderful culture that now exists at Panthers lies with our head coach, Ivan Cleary. He sets the standards for work ethic, quality and commitment to a task. Ivan is a wonderful coach.
When I first pitched the idea of coaching Panthers to Ivan, I told him the first few years would be anything but glamorous. In the middle of his first season in 2012, I actually apologised to him for the difficulty of the task he’d undertaken. I truly felt guilty.
Ivan just shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “We’ll be right,” he said.
He is a tough bugger. Look at what he is doing now. Ivan is a brilliant coach. In fact, all our coaching staff are wonderful people.
Assistant coaches David Fairleigh and Alex Melville provide tremendous support for Ivan. Our two lower-grade coaches, Garth Brennan and Trent Barrett, are exceptional. Both men are NRL coaches in waiting.
My good friend Ron Palmer, the best strength and conditioning coach in the business, is a great man to have in your football club.
Our medical team, physiotherapists, support staff and dressing room staff are second to none.
Our marketing, media and membership teams are outstanding.
Our office staff, grounds people and volunteers are all great. The football CEO, Phil Moss, and football manager, Jason Wrigley, are so good at what they do, and again, are wonderful hard-working people.
I could go on and on. But, in a nutshell, that’s the story of our club. We still have a long way to go. Our job is far from done. However, I am very proud at what our people have achieved so far.
So, when anyone asks why things at Panthers are so greatly improved, I can provide them with a very simple response. We employ good people.