Optimism is the most important emotion for a sporting fan. Without it, supporting a team is a soul destroying process.
You can have optimism no matter where you sit on the ladder. The team in first place give their fans hope that they can go on and win the title. The team at the bottom of the ladder can give their fans hope through blooding youngsters or a few key signings for next year.
I’d forgotten what it felt to feel optimistic about my team, the Penrith Panthers. I haven’t felt anything positive about my club since mid way through 2006 when they announced that Matthew Elliott would coach the side the following season.
I knew what was coming, and I was proven to be correct.
Now, with Elliott being given his marching orders, I can look towards the future of my club with optimism once again. It is going to be a tough road however, there are a lot of issues at Penrith at every level of the club.
The clubs board is under pressure right now, and rightfully so.
They have the backing of 14 licensed clubs and yet, they lost over $10 million dollars last year, an incredible amount. They are over seeing the running of a football club that is under funded, poor on the field, under pressure from sponsors because of poor performances and who is bleeding fans who have just had enough.
They made the right call in getting rid of Matthew Elliott, and followed that up with a bold move to get Tim Sheens.
Sheens rejected more money to stay at the Tigers, the result of not only his own loyalty to his players, but a sign of how far the Panthers have fallen.
There is talk of a push by former players to challenge the current board at the next club elections. None of them have been willing to put their names towards a challenge though.
I’ve always said the Panthers are poorly managed, even at the height of success in 2003, the club lucked into the Grand Final victory on the back of an unprecedented influx of top class junior talent.
Penrith’s management is seen as being from the old school, and at the very least, an influx of fresh blood is needed.
The Coaching Staff
Everyone has to go, no one can stay, no matter how much of a “good bloke” they are. The Panthers need a regime change that starts with a clean slate and no hang overs from the current farce.
They need someone that is big on discipline, fitness and who knows that they will need to develop players and go through some tough times before they start to build a winning lineup.
The Panthers as a club give their coaches a long time to prove themselves. They won’t get someone in and turf them in 18 months time if they lose a few games in a row.
The new coaching staff will have to take advantage of the time they are given and not just look to “win now”.
The Playing Group
The playing group is making a lot of noise about Elliott’s sacking, especially for a side that sits in second last position on the ladder. There is talk that many players will now leave the club, and as a Panthers fan, I can only hope that is true.
Of the current lineup, Michael Gordon, Luke Walsh and Kevin Kingston are the only players that would be really hard to replace.
Michael Jennings won’t go anywhere, and he will flourish under a better coach, but his attitude needs a major change.
We have some decent forwards, but they all have mobility or fitness problems.
Players like Tahu, Waterhouse, Civoniceva, Purtell, Tighe and Laurie all need to go for various reason, if only for the “addition by subtraction” factor.
The biggest junior Rugby League base in the world has been badly neglected. If you are a good young player in Penrith you are better off signing for a different NRL club because you will get better treatment and coaching.
With the size of the catchment they draw from, the law of averages dictates that Penrith will turn out a few stars every year from their junior base. This needs to be embraced by the new coaching staff and by the football club board.
Penrith should be the type of club that can afford to under pay players slightly because there are plenty of good juniors to bring in. They should only sign players from other clubs if they will add the finishing touches to a good lineup, think Luke Priddis in the early 00’s.
A clear out of dead wood will be painful in the short term, but over the long term, it will pay off.
Restoring The Link With Fans
There is a complete disconnect between the Penrith Panthers and the supporter base. For far too long people working at the club have felt they are in a high and mighty position, the fans know nothing.
Fans have been treated terribly. You just have to ask anyone that has attended an event players were supposed to turn up to….the club just couldn’t give a stuff these days.
That all needs to change as part of a wider culture change at the club.
Fans should be embraced, social media should be utilized more than a couple of times a week and new membership options should be added to the club.
Penrith are lucky, they have very little entertainment to content with in the district. Panthers games should be the hottest ticket in town, the club should have the sold out sign up a number of times during the year.
If the club can break down the wall it has built between itself and the fans, be open to criticism without feeling the need to rubbish fans opinions and actually make fans feel like they have some ownership of the side, who knows, maybe more than 11,000 will turn up on a sunny Sunday afternoon to watch them!
The club needs a complete change, from top to bottom. If anything the 2003 Premiership probably prolonged a number of issues and plastered over the cracks to a certain extent.
With a new TV deal around the corner and a new coach on the way, there should be no reason why Penrith can not build something very special and become the juggernaut they really should have been for decades now.
Lets hope the clubs management finally gets things right sooner rather than later.