Penrith were so concerned with the findings of the club’s mid-season review, Panthers group chief executive Brian Fletcher arranged meetings with five of the club’s football staff to express his dismay.
Anthony Griffin was one of them. What began as a review into the club’s football operations led to the end of Griffin's time at the club as it became painstakingly clear to those in charge that things weren’t functioning as smoothly as their position towards the top of the ladder suggested.
In a candid interview on Fox Sports' NRL 360 program on Wednesday night, Griffin blamed a personality clash with executive general manager Phil Gould for his departure from the club.
But the outcome of the club’s mid-season review in June, which Griffin was in fact a part of, indicates the alarm bells began ringing because of a breakdown in communication and relationships with staff and players.
That was viewed by the club as of far greater relevance to his demise than any breakdown with Gould.
NRL.com reported on July 2 that Griffin was under pressure at the Panthers following the revelations of the mid-season review that began two weeks earlier.
Gould strongly denied it was a review into Griffin. And while it may not have been a deliberate ploy to undermine the coach, the deficiencies highlighted in the review did just that.
Griffin was the head coach and, while he can’t be across everything, there was a belief among some club officials that those in charge of different programs were unable to do their jobs to their best ability because of a lack of communication from the coach and his reluctance to delegate.
Once again it was never meant to be an inquisition into the coach. But club officials believed the outcomes were impossible to ignore.
Griffin was reluctant to change his methods. And by the end of the review his cards were marked.
Penrith were initially willing to give him the rest of the season before cutting him loose, with some on the board demanding the staff make it work.
But any support he had was dwindling by the day.
The final straw came after the Panthers were humiliated 50-18 by Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium in round 19 of the Telstra Premiership after a three-day camp on the Gold Coast.
With 10 minutes to go, Fletcher and chairman Dave O’Neill began making the trek down to the dressing room to see how Griffin would respond to such an embarrassing loss.
As they waited in the sheds for the game to finish, Griffin strolled into the dressing room while his team was still playing.
O’Neill and Fletcher were stunned. They felt the coach had given up. That was the final straw. Griffin even turned to the club’s media manager before the post-game press conference to ask what had happened in the final six minutes and who was responsible for letting in another Broncos try.
Come-from-behind wins against Manly and Canberra in his final two outings were viewed externally as a saving grace. In the end, it was the final nail in the coffin.
All it did was confirm to the club that the players were only producing quality football when they moved away from Griffin’s game plan in the second half.
The next day, at a meeting with Gould and manager Wayne Beavis, he was told he did not have a future at Penrith.
Most will tell you players don’t have to love the coach, but they need to respect him. When it came to Griffin, very few shared a close bond with him.
Many respected him, however in his final days at the club, senior officials noticed that respect was diminishing.
Suddenly the voice of assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo was resonating more with the players. Griffin said it was Gould’s way of getting his message across because their relationship had become so toxic.
Griffin felt it was Gould just meddling. Gould felt it was Griffin losing his grip.
But there’s no doubting Ciraldo’s bedside manner was far more effective with the players than Griffin’s hard-nosed approach.
There was a differing of opinion at the club around how to deal with the State of Origin period. Some believed the players needed to be rested more.
Griffin wanted to shoulder through and played all four of his representative stars against Canberra after Origin I and escaped with a nail-biting victory in the nation’s capital.
It was a win but at what cost?
James Maloney pulled up worse for wear after the Origin series and was struggling at training.
The staff were reluctant to push him, but Griffin wanted his star playmaker on deck. In the end, he picked up a neck injury at training and hasn’t been the same player since.
Griffin said in his NRL 360 interview the club’s junior pathways system was a rabble before his arrival in 2016, which offended many staffers at the club.
Penrith played in the SG Ball grand final in 2013 and 2014. They played in the Harold Matthews grand final in 2014. They won the NYC premiership in 2013 and 2015 and also won the NSW Cup in 2014.
The likes of Isaah Yeo, Bryce Cartwright, Matt Moylan, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Waqa Blake had made their NRL debut under Ivan Cleary.
And of the 16 debutants that came through in the three years under Griffin, most came through the very system he has since criticised for not being up to scratch when he arrived.
There's no doubt Griffin can coach. You don't lead teams to three consecutive finals series if you can't do so. But there's more to rugby league than coaching. The environment Penrith wanted to create had changed.
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As harsh as it was, far too many people at the Panthers began to feel change needed to happen about the head coaching position.
Greg Alexander was on deck to help Ciraldo and Peter Wallace at training on Thursday. The vibe around the session was positive.
It's not like the players were celebrating Griffin's demise. But unfortunately for him, not many were disappointed either.