Penrith prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard believes caretaker coach Cameron Ciraldo is a worthy long-term successor to Anthony Griffin.
Speculation of Griffin's replacement has been rife from the minute he exited the Panthers a week ago, but the players have thrown their support behind Ciraldo and hopes he earns a full-time coaching contract.
Campbell-Gillard fronted the media alongside Tyrone Peachey, Josh Mansour and Dean Whare on Monday for the first time since their former coach's axing.
The attention turned to Ciraldo's short-term gig as coach at just 33 years of age and the players spoke of his modern-era edge. Ciraldo retired from the game after playing for the Panthers in 2013.
"He's very honest. That's one of his main attributes he has for the team," Campbell-Gillard said.
"He doesn't beat around the bush in what he's trying to get across. Even as an assistant he was really honest with what you needed to fix and how you needed to fix it.
"He's been honest with us for the last two to three years and I'm backing him to do the job here."
Chammas & Soward on coaching merry-go-round
Campbell-Gillard said the news of Griffin's departure came as no surprise with speculation surrounding his position stretching back to the preseason.
"The boys are full of confidence and there is probably a different vibe as well around the club," he said.
"Hopefully it's in the past now and we can all move forward and not have anymore speculation coming up to dampen our club."
While that would be a positive from a players' perspective, the uncertainty around a new long-term coach is only going to intensify and generate further interest from external sources.
Campbell-Gillard said Ciraldo should be considered a long-term option.
"I think so, I think he's done his trade very nicely. He's been sitting there very patiently," Campbell-Gillard said.
"A lot of teams now have an assistant coach that will do a lot of the work but don't get the praise for it.
"He's done his trade over the last few years and gets his shot now. I don't make the decision on who gets the coaching gig for next year. Whatever happens happen.
"It's tough with all these facts that come out about him. I thought he handled himself very well and has got full confidence from the whole playing group and everyone at the club."
Coaches Speak – Round 22
Meanwhile, the Panthers have suffered a major blow, with James Maloney ruled out for three weeks with a grade two ligament tear.
The veteran playmaker had scans on a knee injury on Monday and is not expected to be play again before the finals.
"He's got a bit of sausage skin at the moment, any knock he gets he's busted open," Campbell-Gillard said of Maloney's tendency to bleed easily.
"He's not getting any younger, obviously the body takes a little bit longer to recover from games. If he needs a rest, I'm pretty sure he will ask for it."