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SO, here we are, we’ve reached that point of the season where football team’s season obituaries start being penned and Mad Monday venues earnestly begin preparations for their most profitable time of the year.
After Sunday’s upset win over the Warriors, the Panthers have kept the mathematical theorists at bay for another week at least. We’ve all done it; taken out our calculators and discussed all sorts of outta-this-world permutations. But let’s face it – it never ends well when you go all Einstein on the ladder predictor and teams put together unrealistic four-game winning or losing streaks.
What has been realistic though, is Penrith master-in-charge Phil Gould’s celebrated five-year plan, which has nothing (or everything?) to do with Lewis Brown’s three-year plan… which looks strikingly similar to the one that got him to a grand final two years ago.
“I remember in my first year at the Warriors, we weren’t the most consistent side,” Brown tells Big League. “We did win some games, but ultimately we fell below what I thought we could’ve achieved. We didn’t have a great season there but we had a good pre-season the year after. And I could see that happening here. We’re really building a culture that everyone’s buying into.”
Brown headed to Auckland in 2009, the only season when an Ivan Cleary-coached Warriors side failed to play in September – discounting 2006 when a four-point salary cap penalty rubbed them out of the finals.
In his six seasons at the helm in Auckland, Cleary led an inconsistent team – perhaps an unfair label – into the finals four times (it should have been five), including a Grand Final in 2011.
“He’s got a very good game-plan, Ivan. It’s very simple, and it just revolves around players playing for each other,” Brown says. “We might not have any superstars, but we’re a team that wants to work hard for each other. He brings out the best in everyone. And that’s why I came here to play under him. He’s low maintenance. He creates a good environment for players to play under. And when you have a good environment, you want to play for the coach. He makes the boys believe in themselves.
“Even when we lost four in a row, we still came to training having a laugh. They say it’s a five-year plan, but I personally believe we can be a lot better a lot sooner.”
Five-eighth Isaac John, who also reunited with Cleary from that Warriors grand final squad mid-season, is even more certain of a return to the finals next year for the Panthers.
“You talk to a lot of the boys at the club and they say how much it’s changed from last year to this year, how happier a camp it is,” he says. “I can’t speculate on what happened here last year but up to a few weeks ago we were in that top eight and had a chance to do something special with our season. Technically we can still challenge for the eight now, but I can definitely say next year we’re vying for a spot in the top eight.”