Phil Gould was progressively more sidelined this season.
Phil Gould was progressively more sidelined this season.

Gould opens up on Cleary rift

Phil Gould has opened up over his departure from the Penrith Panthers, ending his eight-year role with the club.

While speculation had been swirling around about Gould's position at the club recently, the news broke on Tuesday that the NRL legend would be made redundant from his role at the western Sydney club.

The Panthers executive general manager of rugby league since 2011, Gould announced his departure from the role. He originally returned to the club to be the coaching director - following the sacking of Matthew Elliott in 2011 - before Ivan Cleary's first stint at the club.

Speaking on the Six Tackles with Gus podcast, Gould said the writing had long been on the wall.

"I've had this discussion regularly, that eventually my job out there will become redundant," Gould said.

"I think that time has come. In fact, I'm convinced that time has come, that's why we've come to this decision.

"I had a good chat with (chairman) Dave O'Neill and (CEO) Brian Fletcher - who are two really great blokes, they're great mates of mine and we've been through a lot together. When we left the meeting, they were wondering 'do we do this at the end of the year, do we do this in a few months' and I said 'it won't last the day' because someone will find out."

On Tuesday the Panthers revealed Gould and the club had come to a mutual understanding after the executive GM role had been reduced, in the wake of the arrival of Cleary as coach.

Phil Gould said it wasn’t as emotional as he expected to leave the club.
Phil Gould said it wasn’t as emotional as he expected to leave the club.

Much has been made of the relationship between Cleary and Gould.

Gould famously sacked Cleary for 'looking tired' before the coach made it back to the club.

But a 2-4 start to the season has seen the vultures circling and Gould decided the time was right to fall on his sword.

Despite reports of a rift, Gould said he was "indebted" to Cleary for coming to the club in 2012, the season after he guided the New Zealand Warriors to the NRL grand final.

"I gave him a cuddle and a kiss," Gould said of seeing Cleary after the decision was made for Gould to exit.

"I had just walked out with Brian Fletcher and he was just walking in. It was their day off actually but he was coming in to do a little bit of work. I'll catch up with him again later in the week."

Gould said there "has never, ever, ever" been an issue with Cleary and said his departure will open the door for the former Tigers coach to take full autonomy of the Panthers at all levels.

"I had nothing to do with the coaching the first four years Ivan was there, at all, because that's my respect for him and that's the job we needed him to do," Gould said. "I was far too busy doing anything else.

"As you know working with Channel 9, I don't get to all our games. It's rare that I get to a Penrith game. I'm either watching it on TV or watching it on a mobile phone.

"That's why Ivan is back at the club, and that's why he's got a five-year deal and that's why this is his club to reshape around those young marquee players who in a couple of years time will be our senior players.

"They will be the kids who have grown up from 16 years of age being a Panther and they will be teaching other kids what it means to be part of that club. That was the whole project - build from within."

Cleary now has all the pressure on his shoulders.
Cleary now has all the pressure on his shoulders.

Fletcher also fronted media at Panthers HQ and wished Gould well for his future.

"Good luck to him, there's plenty that would like to have him," Fletcher said.

"I think he told me yesterday there was four or five clubs that had approached him over a period of time that would like him to be there. He'd do a marvellous job for sure.

"I don't know whether Gus would go into club-land again. I don't think he'd go into it under the same terms as he came here trying to develop a club that needs developing and building from the ground again. It's too hard."

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He also admitted Cleary had been approached about the decision to move Gould on, saying "Ivan was of the opinion that the job's been done".

Gould said moving to another club was not on his radar at the moment, saying he'd "let the dust settle".

As for his feelings about moving on, Gould said setting up the junior pathways, the Panthers academy and getting the club out of debt were just some of the achievements he took pride in.

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