At the beginning of the year the Penrith Panthers were a club looking to reinvent itself. It needed to happen, they needed to draw a line in the sand and put an era of complete and utter failure firmly in the rear view mirror.
One of the major moved forward was that the club announced that local junior and Panthers stalwart Luke Lewis would become the Panthers club captain. It was a move that was well received by fans, not just of Penrith, but across the league.
Luke Lewis is what the Penrith Panthers should be all about. A local junior who gives you his best every single week, no matter what.
The Panthers made the announcement of Lewis’ captaincy with great fanfare. It was a media event for a club that was trying to show they were moving forward.
Fast forward a few months, and Lewis was dumped as captain for Kevin Kingston.
Now the club can spin it any way they like. Sure, Lewis is away during State Of Origin, but that doesn’t stop the likes of Cameron Smith or Paul Gallen captaining their club sides over the Origin period.
There was talk that Lewis maybe wasn’t the right type of personality to be the clubs captain. That he wasn’t vocal enough. That it was added pressure he didn’t need.
What a load of crap!
Luke Lewis is the best player on the Penrith Panthers roster. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind, this bloke loves the club. He leads by example every single weekend. You’re going to take the captaincy off him because he doesn’t chew the ears off his team mates?
It would have been the easiest thing in the world to go to Lewis, tell him to lead the club by example, put Kingston in as the Vice Captain and tell Lewis to let Kingston do all the yapping. But no, that is not how it all panned out…
They stripped Lewis of the captaincy, something he actually treasured, and managed to piss off the clubs best, most loyal player.
That seems to be the theme of 2012 for the Panthers. Just ask Michael Jennings.
The Penrith Panthers offered Michael Jennings $600,000 a year. Can you blame him for taking it?
A true game breaker. One of the best centers in the game. He has been playing in a losing Panthers side for his entire career. He has played outside some terrible halves in the worst structured side in the competition his entire career.
The best ball Jennings gets at Penrith is thrown behind him, where he can to get it flat footed, then use his incredible, explosive acceleration and brilliant foot work to make something happen.
When he managed to break the line, he has no support! It is all down to him making something happen, all on his own, and then making sure he scores the try as well.
Imagine being that talented, you club loses more games than it wins, you are under utilized, when you do get the ball it is in a terrible position….and on top of all of that, people want to whinge because you accepted an amazing, life changing offer to play for the club you are a local junior of?
How motivating do you think all of that is?
Then, you get dropped to reserve grade from a side that is losing. You are so good, you get selected out of reserve grade to represent your state, and are the only one in the NSW side that actually created something out of nothing!
Then, you go back to your club, and they are trying to shop you around and are even willing to cop a $200,000 a year cap hit just to be rid of you.
Looking at all of this…what do the Penrith Panthers management think they are doing to the mindset of the player base? They have, very publicly, embarrassed the clubs two best players. That isn’t how you build a club! That is how you tear it apart.
The Panthers should have embraced the likes of Lewis and Jennings. They should have got them together and said “We are in this together. We are both contracted to each other for the next few years, you take a big chunk of our salary cap, and that means that if we are all going to be successful, we all have to work our arses off. If you two give us your everything, we promise we will try to give you the team mates to win. Just know that we are all in this together.”.
Instead, the Panthers decided to draw a line in the sand. This is us, you players are over there, and you shouldn’t expect us to stand by you in tough times in the same manner that you stood by this club in bad times.
If Penrith are going to be a force again, as always, they will do it on the back of local juniors who come into the side and get the job done. Players that grew up in the area, who come into the junior development system, who come into first grade and do their best in a side that isn’t winning games.
That is what Luke Lewis and Michael Jennings are. They are the Penrith Panthers. They are what our club should be all about. They should get the same commitment from the club that the club gets from them.
I think the way both players have been treated is a disgrace. They deserve better. Hopefully it doesn’t cost the club Jennings. Having said that, I wouldn’t blame him for a second if he decided to cut his losses at this point and play for a better team that will respect him, his ability, and stick by him when his form isn’t at its best.
As a Panthers fan, I’m used to watching us lose games. In our entire history we only have a few era’s of success. The one thing a Panthers fan usually has to hold onto is the local kid that came good. Who grew up in suburbs you know, who still lives in the area, and who you see playing for New South Wales and Australia.
If we are not embracing those players as a club, we’re no longer a club, we are just a franchise.
The Penrith Panthers need to look at the way it treats it best players. Its local juniors. After all, this is a supporter base that for so many years put up with our club having no connection to us. Now, we almost have it back. That process of reconnecting with won’t happen though if the club treats out local hero’s like garbage.
Stop embarrassing out two best players in the most public way possible. Support them. Get behind them. Give them the support they need. Tell them how important they are to the process of rebuilding the club.
We want them performing for the Penrith Panthers, not the Canterbury Bulldogs or South Sydney Rabbitohs.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
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