Sport

What started Panthers' Moylan crisis

Matt Moylan of the Penrith Panthers in action.
Matt Moylan of the Penrith Panthers in action. DAN PELED

MATT Moylan has concerned the Panthers for some time.

Earlier this year he returned from Origin camp and Phil Gould asked him what he had learned.

It was a simple question in most cases, although Gould works a little differently from most cases.

Moylan's answer still surprised Gould.

He discovered Moylan was being underpaid, according to the player. This is what they learn in Origin, Gould thought.

Rep camps are melting pots for players. Some years back the Kangaroos were in England and a Melbourne player, Robbie Kearns, re-signed with the Storm and went to the bar to celebrate.

A few Broncos were there to share his luck and Kearns was so happy he spruiked a few numbers.

At that, one of the Broncos grabbed at his chest before turning and walking straight to his room to call, on the team bill, Wayne Bennett in Australia.

He was getting underpaid, he bellowed, then wondered what the coach might do about it.

So Gould, now Penrith's general manager of football, would not have been completely surprised. Players were doing it when he coached the Blues in the early 1990s and giving their clubs all sorts of headaches afterwards.

Yet the Panthers' problem is larger.

Moylan's unhappiness is not confined to feeling the club got the better of him in negotiations over his contract, which is not due to expire until the end of 2021.

They are as much to do with a small fallout with coach Anthony Griffin. It is a problem the club is desperately trying to keep private.

 

Penrith Panthers executive general manager Phil Gould.
Penrith Panthers executive general manager Phil Gould. PAUL MILLER

It began last year, not with any one particular incident but with several that rolled into each other.

Griffin replaced Peter Wallace as captain with Moylan.

The usual rhetoric for why went out, that Moylan was the future of the club and all that. It caused ripples within. Wallace is highly admired by his teammates and they felt for him.

They partially suspected that Wallace was sacked by Griffin - who also sacked him from Brisbane - because he would struggle to stay in the side at halfback.

Wallace has since provided a happy conclusion, reinventing himself as a dummy-half.

Then Griffin lost Moylan. In round 14 last year, Penrith trailed Manly 24-4 at half-time and Griffin challenged his captain in the sheds.

It was some bake, they say, and Moylan was said to be highly embarrassed by it before Penrith came back to win 31-24.

Moylan visibly changed around the place after that.

He became tardy at training. He would return late from promotions, dip out of tough sessions for toilet breaks.

Recently when in rehab for his torn hamstring, Moylan shouted himself to a night out and broke the golden rule - that you don't mix alcohol with soft-tissue injuries.

Moylan, the captain, was becoming a problem for the club.

Gould knew enough to be concerned and also knew this for certain: the Panthers do not see themselves as a version of the Gold Coast Titans and will not side with a player ahead of the coach.

 

Matt Moylan looks on during a New South Wales State of Origin training session in May.
Matt Moylan looks on during a New South Wales State of Origin training session in May. DAVE HUNT

The fracture between the coach and his team, slight but true, seemed to concern Gould enough to cause him to pick up the tools last week.

Gould took over training at the Panthers. He called in Penrith's spine - Dean Whare, Tyrone May, Nathan Cleary and Peter Wallace - and issued new instructions.

"This is how we are going to play," he said.

The players immediately liked the new game plan.

The problem was, they were the only players in the meeting and there was just one more ballwork session before they took on Manly last Saturday.

In the same week, Moylan headed into a meeting with Gould and Griffin.

Moylan thought the meeting ended amicably, with enough give for each side to move on. The following day, Moylan read about it in the press. What sort of joint is this? he wondered.

Penrith chief executive Brian Fletcher also said Moylan was a "50-50 chance" to stay at the club.

Gould's press conference on Monday, after speculation lit up over the weekend, was a masterclass in small crisis management.

"When we got around and spoke to everybody there were just little things that, piled together, led us to believe we needed to get to the bottom of this for his own wellbeing," he said.

"Behavioural, attitude, nothing major. But when you put it together we just decided it was best to get some professional help for him and he's keen to do that and sort through it.

"Hopefully he bounces back and he's back in a few weeks.

"Through the discussions this morning he's probably been under the surface bubbling away for quite some time and it's just frustration at the moment and he's just having a little trouble dealing with life as a professional footballer and we want to get that back on track for him.

"I just want him to sort through these issues, get away from football, and reflect on why he's a professional footballer and what goes with that.

"He was quite receptive to all that. In fact, at the end he was probably quite relieved."

Gould said everything while saying nothing. Everybody left satisfied ... feel free to fill in the blanks.

They might be personal issues, but this is a football matter, nothing more.

Topics:  matt moylan paul kent penrith panthers sportopinion

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