Sought-after: Jamal Idris will play for the Panthers in 2014. Photo: Steve ChristoFor the first few months of his tenure at Penrith, general manager Phil Gould was ridiculed about his fabled “five-year plan”.
Shortly after his appointment in May 2011, he hurried then-coach Matt Elliott out the door, quickly followed by captain Petero Civoniceva. Then he moved on Michael Jennings to the Roosters and allowed Luke Lewis to join the Sharks.
The so-called five-year plan became so much of a punchline for how poorly the Panthers were supposedly being governed, it picked up its own hashtag on Twitter. Gould’s legion of detractors jumped all over it.
Then Gould missed out on signing Johnathan Thurston, and nobody will ever know just how close he was to securing an off-contract Todd Carney.
Some thought these to be a failure. Aware of the stench around their club not that long ago, Gould and others realised it was an achievement just to get Origin playmakers to the negotiation table.
So what about now? How does the club look today after two-and-a-half years into the five-year plan, which includes the shock signing of gun centre Jamal Idris after he was released from the Titans on Tuesday?
“He’s a massive signing for this area and this club and another sign of what a lot of people here have achieved,” Gould told Fairfax Media. “Has it happened quicker than I expected? It has to be honest. I sat back the other day and reflected on what we’ve done in the past two-and-a-half years, and it has happened very quickly. But the results in the next two or so years, and beyond that, will show what Penrith is all about. I’m extremely happy with how the club has evolved. Our aim from day one has been to make Panthers the strongest sporting franchise in the country. This is part of that evolution.”
Idris, 23, was granted a compassionate release from the final three years of his Titans deal to take up a three-year deal with the Panthers. “I made comment for Channel Nine last year prior to his serious leg injury about how well he was playing,” Gould said. “He’s a representative-class player. Whether he plays for NSW or Australia again comes down to Jamal himself and the commitment he makes. Last year, I saw how good Jamal Idris could be, never believing he would be playing for the Panthers.”
Notwithstanding the untold good that’s happened on the other side of Mulgoa Road at the once-financially crippled leagues club, the revolution at the football club under its 1991 premiership-winning coach should not be underestimated. They nearly made the top eight in 2013 after many consigned them to the wooden spoon.
Do they have a premiership-winning roster? Not yet, but they’re getting there.
Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward are confidence players who could do the job Penrith need. Then there’s Tyrone Peachey. They’re still kicking themselves at Cronulla for letting him go. Then there’s Kevin Naiqama, whose form for the Knights late last season illuminated his abundant natural ability. Then there’s Elijah Taylor, a signing from the Warriors, ripe for the biggest season of his career. Gould’s been telling anyone who listens about him for years. Then there’s Brent Kite, who played through heinous injury for Manly during their run to the grand final and would still be there if not for the salary cap. What excites the most at Penrith is what’s beneath these players, deeper still.
Premiership contenders might be too strong, but Penrith are much closer to the top of the mountain than some of the bigger, stronger clubs. For instance, Parramatta.
Why has Idris left? When he signed with the Titans for $$1.8 million over five years in 2011, the Gold Coast were a different team. They had promised to make him a larger-than-life character away from footy, but financial problems stalled that. Gould also heard rumblings about Idris’ desire to come back to Sydney to be closer to his family.
The Idris signing is a horse trade with a swap with Brad Tighe a fundamental part of the deal.
“As tough a decision as it was for the Titans to release Jamal on compassionate grounds, I can tell you it was equally as tough to say goodbye to Brad Tighe,” Gould said. “He’s been one of my favourites since I got here. Not just a quality player but person. His work with the indigenous programs, and the mentoring of our young indigenous players, has been a wonderful contribution.”New Pennies Penrith’s key 2014 recruits
Brent Kite – Prop
The veteran comes to Penrith with a point to prove after being squeezed out of the Sea Eagles. Will add some much needed experience to a young forward pack and provide a strong rotation with props Tim Grant and Sam McKendry, as he closes in on 300 NRL games.
Jamal Idris – Centre/utility
Prized signing who returns to Sydney after a two-season stint on the Gold Coast. Will give the Panthers some much needed strike out wide as he looks to find the destructive ball-running form which earned him one-off Test and NSW appearances while at Canterbury in 2010 and 2011.
Jamie Soward – Five-eighth
The much maligned pivot has a point to prove after a messy end to his seven season-stint at St George Illawarra. Will be looking to return to the form which saw him play three Origins for NSW in 2011 and become a key member of the Dragons 2010 premiership win.
Peter Wallace – Halfback
The former NSW Origin playmaker returns to Penrith after six seasons at Brisbane and a starring role for Scotland in the Bravehearts’ world cup campaign. A good combination with Soward will form an integral part of any potential success for Penrith.
Kevin Naiqama – Wing/fullback
The former Knight is reunited with his brother Wes at Penrith. Debuted for Newcastle in 2010 but was limited to only 15 NRL games because of the presence of Darius Boyd, Akuila Uate and James McManus. Will be hoping to finally cement a regular spot at the Panthers.
Tyrone Peachey – Back-rower
Dynamic forward who made his mark in seven games for Cronulla last year. Stuck behind a log-jam of back-rowers at the Sharks, makes the switch to Penrith with the intention of establishing himself as a first-grader. Has fancy footwork and good ball skills.
Elijah Taylor – Back-rower
Reunites with Ivan Cleary at the Panthers having spent time under the Penrith coach at the Warriors, where he starred in the Kiwis’ run to the grand final in 2011. Spent some time at hooker last year but is more comfortable in the back row.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Guiyang Sauna Net.