BEFORE the rugby league world went into meltdown over Anthony Griffin’s explosive revelations on NRL 360 on Wednesday night, Panthers general manager Phil Gould had his say on the developing coaching saga.
In an attempt to clear the air after days of speculation and comment following Griffin’s axing as Panthers head coach, Gould took to his podcast Six Tackles with Gus to set the record straight over the club’s attempt to poach Ivan Cleary from the Wests Tigers.
As the man who sacked Cleary and replaced him with Griffin in 2015, Gould said he has had no part in the conversation to attract the Wests Tigers coach back to Penrith — that responsibility lies with chairman David O’Neill.
Amazingly, Gould said he does not expect Cleary to seek a release from the Wests Tigers from the final two years of his contract given the club’s insistence they would not grant him one anyway.
It casts doubt over who will be coaching the Panthers in 2019 and what impact it will have on the club and its players.
“Ivan has not asked for a release at the Wests Tigers,” he said.
“I could never see Wests Tigers releasing him from that deal, and to be honest I don’t think Ivan would pursue if the Tigers felt that way.”
He was then asked if he could see Cleary coaching at the Panthers in 2019.
“No, but the original conversation was not about next year it was about the future,” he said, explaining the original conversation between O’Neill and Cleary was innocent, rather than a deliberate play.
Gould said he had no part in the conversation — that it was mentioned innocently to Cleary by O’Neill in passing, and the conversation grew from there.
O’Neill then told Gould about the conversation, who said it would become a ‘media storm’ once Cleary informed the Wests Tigers about the meeting, which led to Griffin’s sacking.
“I said: ‘That’s not fair to Anthony Griffin, he can’t coach [under those circumstances] that’s going to create a media storm straight away. We need to tell him exactly what is going on’.”
He also rubbished any suggestion that he has been involved in trying to lure Cleary back to the Panthers.
“If he was planning to come to the Panthers in years to come, he didn’t want to hide that from the Wests Tigers.
“I don’t know at what point it became about 2019 and I know if it has become about 2019. I don’t expect Ivan at the Panthers in 2019.
“The Wests Tigers are quite right to say no because he has a contract.
“I would normally not end the services of a coach unless I had a plan in place, and I have no plan in place to replace Anthony Griffin.”
Tigers chair Marina Go appeared on League Life last night, saying it was not ethical for the Panthers to approach Cleary, and said the club would fight to hold their coach to his contract.
“He loves the club.”