Penrith fullback Lachlan Coote has opened up about the controversial coaching merry-go-round at the foot of the mountains in recent weeks, admitting the playing group was far from happy to see caretaker coach Steve Georgallis overlooked in favour of Ivan Cleary in 2012.
But the 21-year-old insisted that Cleary could expect the full support of the players when he takes over next season following the decision by Phil Gould not to give Georgallis the opportunity to impress.
Coote also revealed he would not be surrendering the No.1 jersey to Michael Gordon without a fight when the flyer returned from injury next year, likening the rest of the season to a selection trial for new mentor Cleary.
Club general manager Gould has been quick to act in recent weeks, pushing for former coach Matt Elliott to stand down immediately after the side’s Round 15 loss to Newcastle and appointing Georgallis as caretaker for the remainder of the season.
Despite suggestions that the former Western Suburbs halfback would be given every opportunity to make the job his own, Gould waited barely a week before announcing that Warriors coach Cleary had been appointed for three seasons from 2012, with Coote admitting the decision had taken the playing group by surprise.
“It was frustrating,” Coote told NRL.com today. “Georgie is really respected around the boys and the fans as well so it was a bit disappointing. But that’s just the way it goes. Ivan Cleary is coming in next year and we’ll give him our full respect – we’re not upset with that. We’ve just got to do what we can do for Georgie this year and hopefully we can try and make the semis and he gets a job next year somewhere.”
Asked his thoughts on the events of the past few weeks, Coote said: “Well it’s been a bit of a shambles around the club recently but it’s time to get back on track now.
“All the boys are pretty happy with the way things are running now with Georgie in charge and everything so it’s been pretty good. It’s been frustrating the last couple of weeks not knowing what’s happening but now we know what’s going on we want to see Georgie out until the end of the year and have a good season for him.”
Ironically, Georgallis boasts a perfect 2-0 record since taking over from Elliott two weeks ago with wins over North Queensland and Canterbury catapulting them back into the top eight with games against struggling Sydney Roosters and Parramatta in the coming fortnight.
Coote said much of the credit for their success had to go the coach who has helped reinvigorate the Panthers’ attack.
“As you can probably see a lot has been changed in our team but it has come together quite well and we’ve strung some games together which has been good,” he said.
“It’s pretty simple but he has changed up the way we attack and what we’ve been doing from the start of the year. They’re not dramatic changes but specific stuff on what we’ve been doing.
“So yeah, Georgie has changed a bit in the game plan but I think we’ve also got closer as a group as well and are wanting to play for each other… and for Georgie.”
Coote himself has rediscovered his attacking spark of late after an injury-plagued start to the season.
Hampered by a chronic groin problem that saw him undergo pre-season surgery and then miss five games between Round 5 and Round 10, he is now eyeing the remainder of the 2011 season as a mini-selection trial as he looks to secure the No.1 jersey ahead of injured team-mate Michael Gordon under Cleary next season.
“Mick was definitely playing some good footy when I was injured so I’m happy to come back in and try and play the best that I can to show what I’ve got as well,” Coote said. “I mean, it’s good that Michael was there (when Coote was injured) and I feel bad for him with what happened to him because he probably would have played Origin. But that’s footy I guess.
“I just have to get back to my best as well now. Obviously at the start of last year I was playing some pretty good footy and I want to get back to what I was then and hopefully hold this spot.”
Coote said his ongoing injury problems had battered his confidence and only now is he starting to find the form that saw him score 17 tries and top the NRL for kick-return metres in 2010.
“It has taken me a while to start to play some good footy again and just having the start that I did this year, I wasn’t really happy with it,” the 21-year-old explained.
“I was just down in the dumps about my game and was a bit worried about coming back. But it’s been good – the boys have been great and have helped me fit back in real well.
“I’ve strung a few good games together which has been good and I’m pretty happy with that at the moment. I’m just trying to get a bit of confidence back out of those games and trying to get back to the form I was in last year.”
The Panthers have the chance to cement their standing in the top eight over the coming weeks but Coote said it was vital the players didn’t let the opportunity slip, with a tough run home to the finals that sees them face Manly, North Queensland, Melbourne, Wests Tigers, the Warriors, Canberra and St George Illawarra in the final seven rounds.
“It’s definitely important that we win this week,” he said.
“We had a talk about it today in our video session. It’s going to be tough to go and win away from home but it’s important to win those next two games to stay around the top eight and put ourselves in a good position for the run into the finals.”