On Monday night approximately 120 members gathered in the EVAN Theatre at Panthers Leagues Club for the 2017 Members Forum. Panthers Chairman Dave O'Neill and head coach Anthony Griffin were also in attendance.
Panthers Membership Executive Jeremy Tuite gave a presentation on the changes and growth of the membership program. Panthers Executive General Manager Phil Gould AM followed up with a summary of the club's financial position, sponsorship numbers and future opportunities.
Gould also spoke on a number of key issues and responded to questions from the audience, while explaining he would personally respond to the 60 or so members who submitted a question in advance of the event.
ON THE NEED FOR THE MEMBERS FORUM
"What happens when a football club loses and goes on a losing streak, it opens itself up to criticism and opinion. Many of the emails I received from the members were quite abusive, and while I don't take kindly to that, I understand the passion with which they're written. That's why I'm here tonight."
"What also happens is there is suddenly rumours everywhere about our players, what is happening internally, about what might be upsetting the team and why they're losing. Who hasn't heard a rumour about the Panthers in the last five weeks? We all have. We'd like to have that cleared up and that's also why I'm here tonight."
ON RUMOURS AND MEDIA SPECULATION
"If I was just like you sitting in the grandstand every week, or watching on TV, I would have some questions too about the way the team has performed. I see what you see when they play. But I see a lot of the things that you don't see. I'm here six days a week. I'm watching the players behind-the-scenes, I'm watching our coaches and staff prepare the team. I know the culture and I know the spirit within the place. For anyone to be suggesting, as a lot of people have done, that there is disharmony or dispirit in this club is totally wrong."
"You will also hear rumours of dissension between certain players. You'll hear rumours players are being shipped out. You'll hear rumours certain players aren't happy with this or that. The entirety of it is rubbish."
"How can I convince you of that? Next year when we go from a 25-man squad to a 30-man squad in the NRL, all those 30 players are now in our building... Over the last 18 months I have negotiated so many extensions of contracts in this club and not once has a player put himself on the open market. Not once has a player asked his manager to go and see what he was worth on the open market. Every player at our club wants to be here at this club... When you've got that culture where everyone wants to stay at the club and everyone has re-signed for a long period of time, how can there possibly be any dissension?"
ON THE ON-FIELD PERFORMANCES
"The confusion comes because we finished off last year so well and so many people were talking up the Panthers. It's not quite the same side at the moment that had that success at the end of last year. We don't have Josh Mansour, while Bryce Cartwright and James Fisher-Harris have hardly played this season. Peta Hiku and Dean Whare who didn't play much last year are coming back from serious knee injuries and still finding their way back into the football."
"When teams are struggling, you lose your ability to think sometimes. Just at the moment they've lost their ability to think, or they've lost a little bit of confidence or belief in what they're trying to do. But that can click at any time."
"At the moment they start the game with all good intentions but when they get a bit of a setback, they're not yet handling it as they should. That can only come from experience and time spent together. I can tell you the desire in this group to improve is immense. These guys are here all day every day trying to get better. This is the best shape our club has ever been in from a sports science, physical development and coaching perspective."
"I believe we have the right players, the right coaches and the right people in this club to build the next great era for the Panthers."
ON RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION
"Other clubs handle their recruitment differently. They go out and buy as many stars as they can and when they're no good, they tip them out and go buy some more stars. We've had a deliberate program here at Panthers to create our own, to build from within, so this club truly represents this area."
"Corey Harawira-Naera...is getting a lot of offers from other clubs. He's one of those players saying 'I will hold on until Panthers can make me an offer'. I made Corey an offer on Friday and spoke with his manager at length... He's a beautiful kid who has come through our junior system and I'm very hopeful Corey will be with us next year."
ON GROWING THE GAME
"The Bathurst area has been wonderful for us. We've signed a new deal to take a home game there every year for the next 10 years. As of the weekend there is now an agreement for our club to actually coach and develop the U16s and U18s Western Rams development sides. We'll be pouring more and more money into those people out there."