Still shocked by the sudden departure of coach Matthew Elliott, Penrith veteran Luke Lewis admits the Panthers have been rattled by the string of events which threaten to completely derail the club’s already faltering season.
After a week in which Elliott’s five-year tenure came to a premature end, wayward forward Daine Laurie sacked and star centre Michael Jennings fined for ignoring medical advice, Lewis revealed that the playing group had been left stunned by the mass upheaval and described the unusual circumstances in which they discovered that their coach had been shown the door.
“It took us all by surprise – no-one expected it at all,” the 27-year-old said. “It happened so fast and no-one knew what had happened.
“We turned up on Monday morning and Matt and [assistant] Wayne Collins were here shaking our hands saying, ‘thanks very much for the last five years’. That was how we found out. It was all over and done with.
“Matt never mentioned anything to us over the last few weeks that anything like this could happen.
“It’s a little bit weird really the way it has all happened – going halfway through the season and then having a total change.
“But it’s happened now and we just have to get on board with everything that has been done and said. Let them worry about what’s best for the club and let the players worry about football.”
Lewis said that Elliott’s departure had been hard on the players, who were still coming to terms with the fact that the club was already on the look-out for a new coach in 2012.
However, recently appointed general manager of rugby league Phil Gould – who prompted Elliott to stand down following last Saturday night’s loss to Newcastle – has acted quickly with another of Elliott’s assistants, Steve Georgallis, taking over for the remainder of the season and potentially beyond.
“It’s a shame for Matt because he was probably the most professional bloke I’ve seen in terms of how he handled the whole situation,” Lewis said.
“In saying that, at least we got to see Matty and Snoopy (Collins) and say goodbye, thank them for everything. It was just the way it went. I know that there was no back-stabbing anywhere and at the end of the day everything is out of our control among the players.
“Obviously it affects a few of the guys that are off contract a bit more but ‘Gus’ has made it clear that he is giving Georgie a shot and if we can play good footy for him – we know what sort of person he is and the sort of football he likes to play – it gives us a good opportunity to put a good foot forward for him.”
The Panthers, who sit two points outside the top eight in 10th position, host in-form North Queensland on Sunday in a game that could make or break their season, with Lewis acknowledging that Georgallis’ tenure could be short-lived if the side doesn’t find some much-needed consistency.
“We all know what’s going on with our footy and what needs to be done,” he said. “We’ve had a disrupted sort of week but it’s gone now – it was a hard start to the week but Steve Georgallis has stepped in now and taken over as coach.
“The boys are on board with the game he wants us to play and everything is looking good at the moment but we need to be more consistent with how we start games. Some games we start fast and finish slow, others vice versa.
“We need to get into a rhythm of just playing football and grinding out our games. I just find that we’ve been giving the opposition too many opportunities – more than we’ve been giving ourselves. It’s hard to win games when you do that.
“But hopefully by Sunday we’ve got everything we want to do out on the park down to a tee and can get on with doing the job.”
Asked how he was holding up in the midst of the representative season, Lewis admitted to some aches and pains after starring for New South Wales in last week’s second State of Origin game but said he was looking forward to helping Penrith get their campaign back on track.
“I’m not feeling too bad but it’s always hard,” he said. “You love playing representative footy but you’ve got to back up for your club at the same time. I’ve got a couple of little ‘nigglies’ but that’s footy and it’s not very often you don’t take the field without a few niggling injuries. I think every player in the NRL takes the field with an injury at some stage of the year.
“So I feel pretty good but I think mentally you’ve got to try and stay focused and that’s the hard part. The middle of the season is the hardest. You’re always up for the start of the season but you have a period of about four or five weeks there where mentally you wouldn’t mind a nice little break for a week or 10 days.
“Once you come into the back-end of the season you start thinking about winning games heading into the finals but this is the toughest part of the year.
“You get really excited about hopefully playing rep football but after that you really wouldn’t mind a weekend off to really recover and recuperate for your club.”