Griffin denies a player mutiny at Penrith
PENRITH coach Anthony Griffin has hit out at rumours of a toxic rift at the Panthers and urged troubled star Bryce Cartwright to rebuild his life and career at the Gold Coast Titans.
Breaking his silence with The Courier-Mail, Griffin discussed Cartwright's shock departure and the pressure on Penrith's multi-talented roster to snap a 15-year premiership drought.
The former Broncos coach also addressed speculation he is at loggerheads with Penrith players following the loss of Cartwright and Matt Moylan - the local junior once dubbed the club's next superstar.
THE BRYCE BOMBSHELL
THE Titans stunned the NRL fraternity last Saturday by announcing they had signed Cartwright to a four-year deal.
Just two years ago, Panthers sensation Cartwright was the NRL's best young forward and considered a State of Origin certainty.
But after some major off-field trauma last season, Cartwright had lost credit points with Griffin.
When he reported for the 2018 pre-season, he was not in Griffin's top 17 during game-simulation sessions at training.
The Panthers mentor met with Cartwright to discuss his personal issues. He agreed to a release, but insists there is no bad blood with Cartwright. Griffin urged the 23-year-old to realise his potential at the Titans.
"I just hope Bryce is happy and gets on with his life," Griffin said.
"Look, there's no ill feeling. Out of respect to Bryce, from my end, I just wish him all the best.
"Everyone else seems to have an opinion on him but I'll get on with the job of coaching at the club.
"I spoke to him before he went and all I hope is that he find happiness at the Gold Coast on and off the field.
"I sincerely mean it when I say that about Bryce."
FOR the past year, speculation swirling around Penrith suggests Griffin has lost elements of the playing group. Former skipper, local wonder boy Matt Moylan, was said to be Griffin's biggest critic. Moylan has since quit, joining Cronulla.
Utility Tyrone Peachey is another rumoured to have a strained relationship with Griffin and, like Cartwright, is expected to ink a deal with the Titans in the next fortnight.
At the Broncos, Griffin had a much-publicised bust-up with Peter Wallace, ironically now at Penrith, and former Maroons Origin prop Ben Hannant. But in his tenure at Penrith, Griffin has steered the club to consecutive finals campaigns.
He scoffs at talk of an internal rift.
"I've heard it all before," Griffin said. "There's no drama at my end. I know where all of the talk (of a rift) is coming from and I'll leave it to them. I don't see a need to elaborate because we've got a happy squad."
Asked if Peachey will also quit the Panthers, he said: "I'm not sure, he has a contract with us until the end of next year. It will be a decision for him and the club."
WHILE Penrith have reached the finals in the past two seasons, there is a sentiment Griffin has underachieved given the quality of his roster.
Factor in Penrith's massive junior nursery and the ambitions of club supremo Phil Gould, and Griffin accepts the expectation to deliver a title is real.
"That's just coaching," he said. "That's the job at this level. It doesn't matter what club you are at. There is always that expectation everyone has to win a premiership. There's the fans and the media and people want to see you win and expect it.
"We'll have to wait and see. The Cowboys made the grand final last year and they get (Johnathan) Thurston and (Matt) Scott back.
"We are building nicely without making any big predictions. The key guys we have got have had another year together. But we need to get our start right. We have finished well the last few years but we need to be better early."
HALF THE BATTLE
NATHAN Cleary, the best young playmaker in the NRL, is off-contract next season. The Wests Tigers, coached by his father Ivan Cleary, are tipped to launch a big-money raid on the NSW Origin hopeful. Griffin concedes Penrith face a fight to retain the 20-year-old whiz-kid.
"That will be up to him and his dad," he said. "That's more a family decision than a football decision. There is a family bond there and I'll leave it up to Nathan. We'd love to keep him and he enjoys playing at the club, so it's really up to him.
"Nathan will be better again this year. He is a rare talent and he has played about 40 games now, so he's had a year-and-a-half to develop. He is an extremely grounded young guy. Having James Maloney playing with him will help, I'm sure we will see him keep developing.
"What he has done in his short career so far has been to the highest standard and that is a credit to his discipline and his habits. I'm looking forward to more of the same."