Gould's job wasn't done yet: Wilson
Whenever someone asks Panthers Group CEO Warren Wilson what it's like to work with one of the best minds in the business – the sans pareil of Origin orators – only one adequate description comes to mind: Penrith's Pied Piper.
"He walks along and people follow. He gets people to move in directions that other people can't get them to do," is how Wilson describes Phil Gould to NRL.com.
"He's a super intelligent person and the Penrith club and the Penrith district should be truly grateful that Gus decided to stay with us. He's terrific to work for – sorry, he works for me so I'll reverse that – work with..."
Almost 1000 days to the moment he was installed as the club's saviour, Phil Gould announced this week that he would stay on in his makeshift position at least until 2017, or another 1200 days more.
It was music to the ears of Penrith's small but optimistic fanbase, who have slowly forgiven the man that oversaw the release of local heroes Luke Lewis and Michael Jennings.
But it was essentially a non-decision for Wilson, who couldn't let the architect of what should now be considered a top eight roster walk away from the expected upturn of a club that had been days away from insolvency.
Pressed on how close Gould was to leaving, Wilson said: "I'm not sure I could answer that correctly, but he and I are pretty close. We discuss all things and basically I said to him, 'We're not there yet, we've got plenty to do.'
"And he agreed to stay on."
Back in 2011, one of Gould's first major acts as white knight was imploring the Panthers board to hire Wilson, the former TAB boss, as CEO of Panthers Group that owned approximately $90 million of debt.
"I'd only been here a few days and we were basically told by the owner of the debt, which was ING, that they had sold the debt to a group called Torchlight from New Zealand," Wilson remembers.
"And I then went and spoke with Torchlight which wasn't a very pleasant conversation on day one, and they basically said that they gave us 90 days to pay the debt back, or they were going to shut us down."
In other words, the NRL was going to be down to 15 teams in a matter of three months.
Enter in Gould and what Wilson describes as his "friends at the big end of town", which included a real white knight in billionaire James Packer.
"We needed a $10 million deposit which we were able to secure through CPH, or James Packer. If he hadn't lent that to us at the time, we would've been in all sorts of trouble because no one else would've lent us that $10 million at the time."
Three years on and the debt has been halved to about $40 million; an entire entertainment precinct – complete with an NRL academy, Western Sydney Community Centre and Direct Factory Outlet – is being built behind the Panthers Leagues club; the Panthers' Holden Cup side are defending premiers; and its NRL squad now includes five Origin players, which is four more than it had last October.
In the eyes of many, the pied piper had just about done his job. In the eyes of a few, Gould won't stop until he lifts up a trophy.
"But it's more than just winning a comp," Wilson says. "It's actually achieving the whole re-invigoration of the Panthers brand, which includes what we're doing off the field, what we're doing from a commercial aspect here in Penrith. There's a whole lot more to it.
"But in saying that, I have often said to him that I'm looking forward to him and I sitting in a corner with a premiership trophy down the other end of the room and looking back saying, 'Mate, we've come a long way'."