The start of a new Rugby League season brings expectations. Everyone starts with the same number of wins, the same number of losses, no baggage and for the most part, injury free.
The first few weeks of a season don’t make or break a campaign, but they are telling. You can see who has come into the season with the right attitude. Who has been working hard as well as those that let themselves go a bit.
You can see some teams needs to run themselves into form, which others, its just there from day one, they make an early season statement that they are one of the teams to beat.
With all that in mind, what can you make of the Penrith Panthers losing by 42-8, at home against a Newcastle Knights side no one is expecting to do well in 2011?
With six months to prepare for this game, the Panthers turned up and played terrible football. They looked disinterested. They looked off the pace. They were lazy. There were no attention to detail. They were easily handled by the Newcastle Knights defense and by the end of the game they had obviously switched off.
This isn’t the Cronulla Sharks, a team rebuilding, a team struggling financially and who is having to make do with the players they have been able to pick up. The Sharks may have got well beaten by the Canberra Raiders, but they tried. They did their best, they just don’t have the cattle.
Penrith boasts internationals in Luke Lewis, Petero Civoniceva, Michael Jennings, Sam McKendry, Masada Iosefa. Then you throw in State Of Origin players like Trent Waterhouse and Michael Gordon.
On top of that you have some good youngsters, the likes of Lachlan Coote, Luke Walsh, Matthew Bell and Sandor Earl, not superstars, but any team in the game would consider most of these players to be handy additions to their squad.
Throw in a very handy hooker in Kevin Kingston and at the very least you are starting from a very good base. You can do something with this talent. They don’t have to be world beater, but with the players above, some of whom have proved themselves at the games highest levels, you should be able to at least hold your own against the majority of the National Rugby League.
Last year, on face value, the Panthers looked to have a very good season. However, when the whips were cracking and the better teams made their run, Penrith somehow managed to end the season in second place on the NRL ladder.
They played two games in the finals for the first time since 2004. Both games they lost.
On that back of that pathetic end to the 2010 season, Penrith have had 6 months to prepare for their clash, at home, with the Newcastle Knights. Six months, and they come out an play like that!
Matthew Elliotts contract runs out at the end of this season. This is his team. he has got rid of players he didn’t want, and this is what he has ended up with. This lineup.
He has the worlds biggest Junior Rugby League base to draw upon, and it has gifted him with the likes of Jennings, Coote and McKendry during his time at the club.
The players Matthew Elliott has recruited shows a worrying trend. A trend to pick up other clubs discards.
Daine Laurie was sacked by the West Tigers for off field issues. Sandor Earl was sacked by the Sydney Roosters for off field issues. Arana Taumata finds himself at Penrith, his 6th clubs after multiple sackings for off field issues…and he is only 21 years old.
On top of these players it is almost certain that the club will sign Timana Tahu despite the fact he has a racial vilification case hanging over his head, having walked out of Parramatta at the end of last year and clearly not being in the right frame of mind to compete in the National Rugby League.
The club has decided it will take anyone, its moral barometer is set to zero.
This is the Matthew Elliott version of the Penrith Panthers. A club he has been coaching for the last five years.
At what point does enough become enough? At what point does the club realize that, after all of these years and yet another full off season, the reality that the Penrith Panthers find themselves in is not where the club or its supporters want to be?
Take one look at the crowds the club draws at home. They are terrible. It is not like Penrith has the same crowded sporting market that most Sydney teams face, their nearest professional sporting club is the Parramatta Eels. The Panthers have an entire district to themselves. They are the one show in town, the one big event every single year.
A club in an area where Rugby League is the undisputed king. Where it is a way of life….and yet…..the fans are staying away, not even willing to show up to see the famous clubs the Panthers play against every second week.
There is only so many times you can disappoint. So many bad decisions, so many terrible losses and so much heart break before you damage your fan base.
The moment that the Penrith Panthers re-signed Matthew Elliott to a contract extension in 2009, the fan base checked out.
After waiting 6 months and then watching the club put on yet another pathetic performance at home against an ever dwindling crowd for their season opener, hopefully, finally the clubs management will say that enough is enough.
It is time to sack Matthew Elliott. he has had his time, and this is where we find ourselves, starting the 2011 season fixed to the bottom of the ladder.
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