Sacked Penrith coach Anthony Griffin and Panthers general manager Phil Gould.
Sacked Penrith coach Anthony Griffin and Panthers general manager Phil Gould.

The truth according to Anthony Griffin

WHEN two men fall out, there is always two sides to the story.

It pays to listen to both before deciding which one you want to believe.

Everyone tells it how they see it, or want to remember it. And there is no better storyteller in rugby league than Phil Gould.

Gus makes ME believe fairytales do come true. That there is a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. Or a train wreck on every turn.

Sometimes it looks to me like it depends on what mood Gus wakes up in on any given day.

Anthony Griffin, by his own admission, is different. He speaks slowly. Doesn't use big words. As he proudly puts it: "I'm from Queensland."

We were sitting at Fox Sports' Artarmon studios waiting for Griffin to turn up for an 11am briefing to talk through what would be discussed on Fox NRL 360.

None of us were quite sure what to expect, given Griffin hadn't said a word publicly since his sacking at Penrith on Monday.

I have always found him to be genuine and down to earth, though not the type who fights his battles publicly.

But he was left with no alternative.

Gould had already told us that Griffin was "old school" and that he had lost the dressing room. That was why he could not continue as Penrith coach, sacked with two years still to run on his contract.

There were eight people in the room and when Griffin took centre stage, no subject was off-limits.

He said from the start his intention was not to discredit Gould, but purely to defend the job he had done at Penrith.

To say the story he told differed dramatically from the one Gould had been putting out was a massive understatement.

While Gould has sold himself on the fact that he is the man who has masterminded this rebuild from the ground up at Penrith in recent years, Griffin remembers it differently.

The 51-year-old took us back to when he was in charge at the Broncos and how Gould had come to him and Brisbane chief executive Paul White on a reconnaissance mission.

Griffin recalled how he had just returned from a fact-finding mission to the United States to learn the latest about sports science and training techniques. Gould had been fascinated by the system and structures in place at the Broncos, Griffin said.

Anthony Griffin oversees Broncos training at Red Hill in 2014. Picture: Liam Kidston.
Anthony Griffin oversees Broncos training at Red Hill in 2014. Picture: Liam Kidston.

At the time, you may remember, Penrith were not producing near the talent they have in the years since Griffin's arrival.

And they were in the foetal position when Griffin took over.

Penrith played off for the wooden spoon the year before Griffin arrived and instead of sleep testing and high performance, training systems he brought with him, it was more like KFC and a lap around the oval.

Griffin always figured Queenslanders did it differently from the quick fix favoured in NSW.

Gould wanted what Brisbane had. So he headhunted Griffin.

Griffin believed you had to build a whole club from within. It was the only way to control the work ethic and a culture, the good recruitment.

If you get the right people on the park at the right time of their careers and keep them healthy and defend well, you will find a way to make it successful.

Griffin stayed patient with that philosophy and it worked.

That is what he is most disappointed about now. The club is where he was brought to take them: at the next level. They are a good chance of winning a premiership.

There is nothing old school about that.

Old-school thinking is a coach thumping his chest, flogging the players around the park.

Phil Gould and Ivan Cleary during his first go round at the Penrith Panthers.
Phil Gould and Ivan Cleary during his first go round at the Penrith Panthers.

Penrith is a club where a lot of work at all levels has gone into transforming it into the machine it is now.

Griffin has no animosity towards Ivan Cleary if he is to take over at Penrith, and as for Nathan, there was a genuine affection, as it was when he spoke about pretty much every player.

There was a sense of sadness but also a man at peace that he had done his absolute best by everyone.

Even as we sat there, I could see his phone light up with text messages still coming from players. He noticed me looking at a name on his screen.

He didn't make it personal with Gould. Their philosophies, he said, just clash.

And that was the whole root of the problem over the past 12 months. Gould is a quick-fix type of guy.

Problem with the performance? Everything can be fixed with a play.

This week we are playing that mob? Defend this way, we have to change everything.

The pair argued over it.

Griffin always believed he could handle that. But there were months this season where they did not talk.

It broke down after Penrith beat North Queensland in round four.

Anthony Griffin at the press conference after the fateful loss to the Cowboys. Picture: AAP
Anthony Griffin at the press conference after the fateful loss to the Cowboys. Picture: AAP

Nathan Cleary got hurt the week before against Canterbury and they went to Townsville. Jimmy Maloney took over.

A week later they beat Parramatta. It was not a Gould kind of win. They won ugly.

Significantly, though, as ugly as it was, that was the game Maloney said afterwards was the best win of the year - and the one that convinced him the Panthers could win the premiership.

But Gould didn't like the manner of the win.

Basically from that point, Griffin knew his cards were marked.

He just wanted to see out the season. See out what he started. A system, he maintains, he helped build from the ground up.

You go back through Gus's history with previous head coaches he has worked with. This was never going to end in a fairytale.

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