It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. A minor squabble with major ramifications. Ivan vs Gus.
To call it an argument would be unfair on both parties. So too would it be to suggest that the series of events that played out last week alone would lead to Gould walking.
It merely confirmed what many Panthers powerbrokers were hoping to avoid for a while longer.
Perhaps it confirmed to Gould, if he was in any state of denial, that he was no longer wanted. Redundant is the word that’s been thrown around.
Last week’s power struggle highlighted that regardless of the protocols in place, Gould knew only one way. His way.
For so long, and in many roles at different organisations, nothing happened without his blessing.
So when he extended the contract of one of the club’s top 30 players last week, he did so without blinking an eyelid.
But Gus’s way was no longer the way.
The club, to ensure Cleary wasn’t undermined by the general manager when he agreed to join the Panthers last year, set up a recruitment and retention committee.
Panthers CEO media conference
It’s a group consisting of the chairman, the chief executive, the general manager, the coach and the football manager.
In reality it was a committee formed to ensure Ivan got what Ivan wanted.
So when Cleary found out one of his players had been extended, you could imagine his frustrations.
Not because he didn’t want that player, but because Gould did what Cleary feared he would if he came back.
The alarm bells began ringing. Was history repeating itself? Was this a power play or a simple oversight?
Panthers v Rabbitohs - Round 7
The concerns were raised with the powers that be and Gould was told under no uncertain terms that it wasn’t to happen again.
The mover and shaker was now being moved and shaken.
The man, who eight months earlier had been entrusted with the power to overthrow then coach Anthony Griffin, now had zero jurisdiction over the team he built.
It’s not for this column to decide whether that’s right or wrong, most people have already made up their minds.
To be fair to both Gould and Cleary, they were able to put aside their differences and work amicably over the past few months. But they never worked productively.
Gould was executive general manager by title, but a glorified football manager by role.
The mover and shaker was now being moved and shaken.
When Cleary arrived he was told he wouldn’t have to report to Gould, and he got his wish.
Gould was sidelined, but the coach always had someone looking over his shoulder. He felt that every move was being examined. And with every loss, the feeling of paranoia only grew.
NRL.com understands Cleary never asked for Gould to go, but nor did he flinch when asked at the board meeting on Wednesday if he had any objections with the general manager’s role becoming redundant.
The players, who on Wednesday afternoon were told of Gould’s departure by chairman Dave O’Neill and chief executive Brian Fletcher, had been walking on egg shells for some time.
The elephant in the room was hard to ignore.
What also became hard to ignore for the club was a feeling that because of Gould’s polarising opinions and actions over many years, the club had a constant target on its back.
And in the end, the Panthers felt a need to save itself from the one that saved them.
Gould’s tenure at the Panthers was always under a dark cloud from the moment Cleary arrived in November. But the Panthers believe the fallout from the club’s sex tape saga in the pre-season expedited things, having a greater impact than any power struggle that was taking place.
How Gould’s Panthers exit unfolded
It was then the club feared Gould was about to walk as a result of the off-field drama.
The actions of men he treated like his own kids shattered him.
Say what you like about Gould, but no one has protected and looked after the players like he has.
It’s often been to the detriment of his own reputation – putting them ahead of himself even when the public’s opinion of him began to erode.
The club did its best to convince him that the actions of the players were in no way a reflection of the culture he has instilled at the Panthers.
He has never cared about the criticism often aimed at him. But this was different. This ate away at everything he has tried to build at the club over the past eight years.
Lebanon Test fears
There are genuine fears Lebanon will not take part in the mid-season Test match against Fiji at Leichhardt Oval because of a political stance against the governing body back home.
The Australian-based Lebanese players, including Robbie Farah, Alex Twal, Adam Doueihi and Michael Lichaa, gathered in Sydney on Wednesday night to discuss the predicament the nation’s rugby league team finds itself in.
Lebanon is scheduled to take on Fiji on June 22 as part of a double header, which also pins Samoa up against Papua New Guinea.
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However the Australian-based players have boycotted representing the national team since the World Cup in support of the Lebanese-based players.
Financial irregularities after the World Cup, which allegedly saw sponsorship money go missing, forced the Lebanese-based players to take a stand.
They refused to play until the executives were overthrown, a stance the NRL players have supported.
However those Lebanese players lost the right to vote given they had boycotted representing Lebanon last year, and the introduction of two new teams saw the current administration re-elected.
The players desperately want to help grow the game in Lebanon and build off the back of their 2017 World Cup success, but they may be forced to pull the pin on the Test in June if things don’t change.
Broncos fear Rabbitohs raid
There are fears growing at the Broncos that young gun Gehamat Shibasaki could be heading to South Sydney. The Rabbitohs are moving closer to luring him back to play under Wayne Bennett.
Levi in demand
A few NRL clubs have been in contact with Danny Levi over the past few weeks enquiring about the services of the Newcastle hooker.
The Knights No.9 looks set to be squeezed out of the club to try and ease some salary cap pressure in 2020. It’s not the first time his name has been tossed up at rival clubs.
Woods casts eye on early return
Aaron Woods had his cast removed on Tuesday after breaking his foot for Cronulla earlier in the month.
The Sharks prop is still on crutches and will be in a moon boot for the next month but is hopeful of returning in round 13.
The injury has cruelled him the chance of reclaiming the NSW State of Origin jersey he lost last year.
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Academy reward for Gould
Phil Gould’s legacy will live on at Penrith, and there’s every chance it will be plastered all over the club’s Academy walls for all to see.
The Panthers are discussing the potential to rename the club’s impressive headquarters, which without Gould’s power and influence wouldn’t have been built, the Phil Gould Academy.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.