What caused Moylan's split with Panthers

What caused Moylan's split with Panthers

In his first few months in charge of Penrith in 2016, Anthony Griffin told those in power at the club that Matt Moylan was the next Darren Lockyer.

A superstar in the making. So just 50 games into his NRL career, and without a single representative jersey to his name, Moylan was made captain.

It was a decision that was meant to help bring out the best of him but it would eventually bring out the worst. To put it simply, he wasn't ready.

In his first NRL interview in 2013, Moylan was so shy and nervous that not one answer was longer than six words.

Three years later, this softly spoken local who'd hardly seen past the bright lights of Penrith was the face of the Griffin revolution.

Penrith knew there were some things about Moylan that needed to improve. To put it in rugby league terms, he was loose.

The club had concerns about his party-going ways. Diet wasn't a consideration. He was a footballer first – a very good one – and an athlete when he wanted to be.

Sharks pivot Matt Moylan.
Sharks pivot Matt Moylan. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Penrith felt the captaincy would change him. That the extra responsibility of leading a team – his team – would bring out the inner Locky.

At first it did. That year he went on to play in all three State of Origin games for NSW before representing Australia on the end-of-season tour of the United Kingdom.

But when he returned from the Blues camp, the Panthers welcomed back a different person.

Those bright lights of Penrith suddenly didn't seem so blinding. Some say there are two types of people who grow up in Penrith. The ones that never want to leave and the ones that never want to come back.

Moylan was quickly becoming the latter. He became curious. He started asking questions about salaries and comparing his contract to those in his NSW team. And rightly so.

Before he went on a six-week expedition with the Kangaroos, the Panthers moved to allay his concerns and extended his contract by another four years, believed to be worth $750,000 per season, until the end of 2021.

Penrith thought any minor risk of unsettling their skipper had been avoided, but Moylan was becoming agitated.

Following Penrith's slow start to 2017, in which his position in the NSW Origin team was under threat, Moylan began making noises about moving out of fullback.

He wanted to play five-eighth. The Panthers didn't believe he was ready to move into the halves despite numerous pleas from the skipper.

So when he found out Panthers executive general manager Phil Gould had told the NSWRL he wanted Bryce Cartwright – and not Moylan – to play five-eighth for City Origin, the skipper began losing patience.

That came not long after the first major crack in the relationship between Griffin and Moylan following the April Fool's Day drama in Melbourne last year, when the captain deliberately disobeyed the coach on a night that would set them on a collision course for later in the year.

Matt Moylan tries to evade Cameron Smith at AAMI Park in 2016.
Matt Moylan tries to evade Cameron Smith at AAMI Park in 2016. ©NRL Photos

The Panthers, who had just lost 28-6 to the Storm at AAMI Park, returned to the team hotel where the club had organised a room to drown their sorrows in the company of their teammates.

There was no curfew broken because there was no curfew. Under no uncertain terms, Griffin told his players they weren't to leave the hotel. He told them they hadn't earned the right to.

Moylan, along with Waqa Blake and Peta Hiku, chose to ignore it. They were subsequently dropped for their behaviour, but it was an act of defiance from the skipper that meant Griffin could no longer turn a blind eye to some of the benefits Moylan enjoyed as captain.

The players began to notice that relationship between captain and coach was eroding. Late for sessions, skipping physio.

Perhaps it was the club's fault. After all, he was allowed to run his own race for so long, it was only natural there would be kickback when that freedom was taken from him.

For the players it wasn't personal. They all got along with Moylan, but their respect for him dwindled as it became painstakingly clear that he was unhappy at the club.

Rival clubs started to circle.

This is where the story gets complicated.

Penrith were so concerned with Moylan's behaviour, they wanted to get to the bottom of it.

However, Moylan didn't want their help. Nor did he agree with the club doctor's diagnosis that he was suffering from mental health issues.

Club officials were being blamed externally for using mental health as a cover to disguise the breakdown between coach and captain.

But internally they were adamant he needed help. Moylan didn't think so. However the club refused to let him play, even in a do-or-die finals game, until he got the help he needed.

Moylan, with his manager Allan Gainey beside him, sat down with Gould, Griffin, board member Greg Alexander, chairman Dave O'Neill and chief executive Brian Fletcher inside a Panthers meeting room soon after.

Sharks star Matt Moylan.
Sharks star Matt Moylan. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Moylan broke down into tears. He later agreed to get help and the next day Gould came out and declared Moylan wouldn't be leaving the club.

Little did he know that when Moylan left the club's academy the day before, it would be one of the last times the Panthers would see their captain.

The Panthers knew Moylan was negotiating with other clubs. He met the Wests Tigers but given they had already signed Josh Reynolds to play five-eighth, Moylan wasn't interested in playing fullback.

He told the Tigers it would reduce the likelihood of further representative honours. He was also speaking to Cronulla.

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan believed he needed to freshen up his roster if they were to make a play at a premiership in 2018.

At the time the Sharks weren't budging on requests from James Maloney to upgrade and extend his deal.

They were more interested in chasing Moylan and Mitchell Pearce.

So Gould and Flanagan, who are both managed by Wayne Beavis, orchestrated a swap deal that would serve each club's needs.

The Sharks wanted to add some spark and life into their attack, and the Panthers needed an experienced head to help Nathan Cleary steer the team around the paddock. Win-win.

But on Friday night in the semi-final at Allianz Stadium there'll be only one winner. The other will have all off-season to stew over the fact they didn't quite achieve what they came to do.

Cleary catches up with Panthers chairman again

The whispers about Ivan Cleary making an early exit from the Wests Tigers won't go away. And this photo of the Tigers coach talking to Penrith chairman Dave O'Neill in the corporate boxes of ANZ Stadium prior to the Panthers-Warriors elimination final only added fuel to the fire.

If you look closely they weren't in the same box. O'Neill was in the NRL suite while Cleary was a guest of real estate giants Domain.

Speaking of real estate, it's interesting to note Cleary's Leonay home, which it was claimed O'Neill was interested in buying and was the reason they met up two months ago, is no longer on the market. Let the conspiracies begin!

Lomax poleaxed by Sergis' knockout

There's been a lot of talk this week about Zac Lomax and how he will handle the daunting task of shutting down Greg Inglis in just his fourth game in the NRL.

But he showed last week he can handle pressure and distractions, putting in his best performance in the top grade despite being rattled in the pre-game by a heavy concussion to his girlfriend Jessica Sergis playing for the Dragons in the NRLW match against the Broncos.

Lomax was concerned for the welfare of his partner, who had trouble recounting the events that led to her sitting in the sheds while her teammates were on the field.

"It was pretty tough to see," Lomax said.

"She couldn't remember much. I just went in and checked on her to see if she was alright but she didn't have much of an idea of what went on. She was stressing out because she wanted to get out there, and she didn't want it to distract me.

"I was watching it when it happened. She went in and tackled with her head so I just told her 'you're supposed to use your shoulder mate'.

Bulldogs withhold Elliott's award

There was one notable award not presented at last week's Bulldogs presentation night. Despite the evening's program highlighting a community award, there was no mention of it throughout the night.

It's understood the Bulldogs decided to overlook the award because the recipient was none other than Adam Elliott, who has done some fantastic work in the community since breaking into the NRL.

He visited his home town of Tathra earlier in the year to help with the devastation a bush fire caused, while he remains the hero in the eyes of his autistic brother.

While he didn't receive the award, his behaviour on Mad Monday shouldn't take away from everything he does in the community. It's the reason why he's nominated for a Ken Stephen Medal.

Unfortunately for Elliott, news of his antics has reached the AFL, with Geelong star Patrick Dangerfield poking fun by turning up to Wacky Wednesday celebrations in nothing but a Bulldogs jersey and a pair of budgie smugglers.

McCullough hunts around for Ben

Andrew McCullough and Ben Hunt have been very close friends for a long time. Despite Sunday's heavy loss at Suncorp Stadium, McCullough was spotted in the Dragons' sheds after the game chatting with the St George Illawarra No.7.

The crowd certainly didn't let him forget the nightmare of his dropped ball from the 2015 grand final. Neither did his former team. "Which kick off?" Hunt said. "Every one seemed to keep coming. Dufty said to swap with him, but Jamayne's a clever player he kept finding me."

NRL doesn't let Sharks off the hook

The NRL had to intervene on Tuesday after rival clubs and selected media made complaints about the Sharks not following media guidelines in the week of a finals match.

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan didn't want Andrew Fifita, Matt Moylan or Josh Dugan to do any media this week, however under NRL rules all 17 players have to be up for interview in the week leading into a sudden-death final.

The Sharks were originally only going to put eight players up for the week but were forced to send out a revised schedule an hour before their press opportunity with all players available.

Club officials said Fifita was not feeling well enough to speak but if it wasn't for the change, we would never have seen Dugan's heartfelt message, one that has received plenty of support from the rugby league community.

RCG laid low with bug

There were a few observers that noticed Penrith prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard wasn't his usual aggressive self against the Warriors in the first week of the finals.

The front-rower was battling gastro for most of the week. The next few weeks will go a long way to determining which props represent the Kangaroos in the end-of-season Tests, with Campbell-Gillard, David Klemmer, Aaron Woods, Jordan McLean, Josh McGuire and Jake Trbojevic all vying for spots in the middle.

One of those six players who represented Australia in the World Cup is likely to miss out on a spot in the best 17.

Turbo no go for Roos

Still on the Kangaroos and Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic has admitted he is all but no chance of featuring in the Tests at the end of the year.

Trbojevic's face was swollen like a balloon at Monday night's Brad Fittler Medal presentation after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured cheekbone he suffered in the last-round loss to Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium.

It's understood the back three will consist of James Tedesco at fullback and Valentine Holmes on one wing. Dane Gagai and Josh Addo-Carr will fight it out for the other wing spot in the coming weeks.

Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic.
Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

Maloney cooks up trouble for Damien

After Damien Cook won an award at the Brad Fittler Medal on Monday night, he was interviewed by a few journalists when perennial pest James Maloney interrupted to ask his own question.

"How do you combat Tariq Sims this weekend? He said that he's got a target on your head and he's personally picked you out," Maloney asked.

To which Cook replied: "I think Tariq has taken a lot of credit for Tyson Frizell's hard work on the other side of the field. He hasn't stopped telling people tonight that he scored a hat-trick."

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.