Penrith Panthers: Truth comes out

By Peter Roy

The sad story of the Penrith Panthers in 2007 continued last night as the bottom placed Panthers were eventually blown away by the Wests Tigers in Friday night NRL.

Plenty of speculation has been bandied around as to why the Panthers aren’t performing. Reports on Craig Gowers behaviour affecting the team, Luke Priddis being burnt out, Tony Puletua over the hill and Reece Wesser out of form?

The other angle was Matt Elliott coming to town. Plenty of NRL pundits said that Matt Elliott may have had a negative effect on the Panthers and his style of coaching might not be suiting the 2003 NRL premiers.

It seems this latter angle was right on the mark. Luke Priddis when interviewed this week about being on the outer at Penrith, dropped a bombshell. Priddis said “several playmakers had been told in the pre-season to reel in their natural games under Matt Elliotts style.”

“At the start of the year, the more creative players were told that we need to put our tricks away in our bags in order to try and get the structure Matty wanted us to play,” Priddis said.

This pretty much explains why such a creative and attacking team has struggled for most of 2007. We caught a glimpse of what the Panthers can do against the Bulldogs in Round 3, but it seems coach Elliott has really hamstrung the key players in the team.

It’s not the first time a coach has told certain players to tone down their ad lib play, Brian Smith and Steve Folkes are noted for their hard nosed approach to ‘unplanned’ play.

The problem for Matt Elliott and the Panthers now is that it’s almost impossible to revert back to their original style and be successful quickly. You hear it so many times, winning and losing are habits. The Panthers are in such a rut, that even if they give guys like Wesser and Pritchard licences to thrill – the belief factor simply isn’t there and mentally the team is shot to bits.

As Craig Gower exits to France next year, Luke Priddis and Tony Puletua have been told to look for other clubs so their on-going contracts can be trimmed – is a player clean out really the answer?

Maybe for the first time in a while, the coach is probably guilty just as much or more than the players. The Elliott style of play just might not suit the Panthers and yet the merry go round for Penrith players seems to be cranked into overdrive already.

Elliott is not guilty of sitting idle, the former Canberra Raiders coach has tried everything to get the Panthers firing. From bringing in Ryan Girdler this week to assist, to getting Matt Adamson highly involved and even spending plenty of time with Panthers management – thrashing out ideas.

But lets get one thing straight though, sacking and alienating premiership winning players probably isn’t the smartest move to get your team on the road to recovery.

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