As he stood before myself and a group of fellow 18-year-olds and delivered one of his typically laconic and measured speeches, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of Anthony Griffin. But six months later I am sure that the Panthers head coach will leave a lasting mark at the club.
Following the departure of Ivan Cleary, some degree of uncertainty surrounded the Panthers. Along with many pundits I wondered what it was that made Phil Gould so adamant Griffin was the right man for the job.
But when Griffin first addressed our SG Ball squad in November last year, I began to understand why Gould had declared him the ‘only candidate’ for the role at the Panthers. Griffin immediately announced that our previous training schedule had been altered and that he himself would personally attend and assist with our training sessions on a Wednesday afternoon.
And he did. Every Wednesday Griffin would turn up to our training and when he couldn’t, assistant coach Garth Brennan would attend in his place. The presence of Griffin at training made the boys stand a little straighter, run a little harder and most importantly, instilled in us an understanding that we were part of the Panthers and everything they represent.
We learned we have a responsibility to uphold the club’s core values on and off the field. We were reminded what an honour it is to be able to pull on a Panthers jersey and play rugby league. New policies were introduced to thoroughly clean up after every training and there was a price to be paid for letting a jersey touch the change room floor.
The plans for the development of a state-of-the-art rugby league facility may have been in place before Griffin’s arrival, but the Panthers Rugby League Academy now echoes the ethos that Hook has brought to the club. The facility is designed to inspire a burning desire to train your way into the club’s best squad.
Our team toured the Panthers Rugby League Academy only a few weeks ago. All the while we were reminded of what it takes to earn a locker in that impressive NRL changeroom – dedication, commitment and tireless hard work.
The benefits of Griffin’s move to the foot of the mountains may not yet be fully visible on the NRL ladder but I have no doubt the wins will come.
If you want a coach who will light up a press conference with one-liners, then Griffin isn’t the mentor you’re looking for. However if you want to be humbled, taught that superstars are forged purely from tireless effort and constantly reminded what a privilege it is to pull on that Panthers jersey, then drop into Penrith when the next pre-season rolls around. You’ll no doubt find Griffin out there, after hours and long after the NRL players have gone home, working with the next group of youngsters and teaching them just what it means to be a Panther.
Mitch Kenny, 18, is a member of the Panthers SG Ball side and an aspiring sports writer. The Panthers face Illawarra Steelers in the SG Ball Grand Final - 2pm Saturday at Pepper Stadium.