Coach Ivan Cleary and assistant coach Trent Barrett. Picture: Brett Costello
Coach Ivan Cleary and assistant coach Trent Barrett. Picture: Brett Costello

Panthers tearing down the house Gould built

THE Panthers Group has slashed its annual grant to Penrith's football club by a whopping $5.6 million after scrapping former general manager of football Phil Gould's long-term contract policy.

After a crippling one-off season of payouts to players - and Gould himself - the Panthers Group's $9 million a season allocation to the football club will be reduced to $3.4 million for next season.

Penrith moved multiple players on long-term contracts this year - including Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Waqa Blake and James Maloney - plus Gould's termination - at a hefty cost of $3 million.

Desperate to abandon an ill-fated policy of having one man control the club's salary cap, long-term deals and back-ended contracts, Penrith has made dramatic financial changes since Gould's resignation in April.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has installed a 10-man recruitment, retention and salary cap committee comprising himself, Brian Fletcher, Greg Alexander, Trent Barrett, Cam Ciraldo, Peter Wallace, Dave O'Neill, Matt Cameron, Jim Jones and group financial controller John White.

Penrith has been forced to end a number of contracts early. Picture by Brett Costello
Penrith has been forced to end a number of contracts early. Picture by Brett Costello

The group, which meets twice monthly during the NRL season, has abandoned the club's policy strategy of having one man - Gould - as sole salary cap boss.

"In the view of the retention committee, those long-term deals weren't in the best interests of the club. We have tidied everything up but we have to take a hit in one year," said Fletcher, Panthers Group chief executive.

"We are trying to reduce long-term and back-ended contracts. We had to make some hard financial decisions going forward."

With the payouts now settled, and the salary cap committee in place, the Panthers Group don't feel a need to inject $9 million a year into the football club.

Penrith players have a drink during Penrith NRL training on a hot Sydney day in Penrith. Picture: Brett Costello
Penrith players have a drink during Penrith NRL training on a hot Sydney day in Penrith. Picture: Brett Costello

The Daily Telegraph can reveal an exclusive break down of the Panthers' financial figures in the past season, which included:

* An amount of $2.8 million being given to propagate and develop junior rugby league in the Penrith district.

* Around $1.5 million needed for the upkeep of Panthers Academy and Panthers Stadium.

* About $800,000 given to medically retired players Sam McKendry and Tim Browne.

* Approximately $3 million spent on coaching and football staff.

* Despite the huge outlay, the Panthers Group still posted a $23m cash profit for this year.

All payouts had to be finalised in one year - not over a player's contract term. That meant the payout figure was excessively high for 2019.

"When you're releasing long-term contracts, the accounting standards make you put the full amount in the year that a player leaves the club," Fletcher said.

Former Panthers general manager Phil Gould. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP
Former Panthers general manager Phil Gould. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP

"We have now come up with a different business model in terms of retaining and releasing players. We have made adjustments after making mistakes before financially.

"The committee has to approve everything and then a recommendation goes to the board for final approval. When Gus (Gould) resigned, Ivan suggested that a retention committee be formed, a collaborative committee and not just one person.

"The retention committee feels very confident where the club has landed now. We don't have long-term contracts that aren't manageable. The committee now feels that we have to be 110 per cent right for a player to sign a long-term deal."

Penrith now has just one player on a long-term deal - halfback Nathan Cleary.