Monday, May 28, 2012

Michael Jennings, Penrith, NSW.

Considering Gould was meant to bring some club stability and composure to the Panthers, it’s ironic that their current Michael Jennings situation is nothing but a confusing mess.

Michael Jennings was picked from reserve grade to play for NSW in game 1; some say this is crazy, being the first reserve grade selection in 29 years.
Jennings was always going to be picked. Ricky wanted to ‘pick and stick’ as much as he could from the 2011 squad, and Jennings was one of the Blues best last year in game 1 before being injured and missing the remainder of the series. And to be honest, NSW are short on centres.
Does the fact he was dumped to Windsor reflect a poor attitude from Jennings? Or poor form? On the surface, to be honest I can’t figure out what his done that bad. He had 2 beers on ANZAC day (un-Australian if he didn’t) whilst recovering from an injury, and has scored 6 tries from 8 games this year. However, we will never know what his like at training or as a member of the team. A deeper insight is unavailable.
At the start of the year, reports ran about how Jennings had learnt his lessons of the past, and realised 2012 was the year to make the most of lost opportunities and give proper focus to realise his potential.

Now it seems the Panthers are trying to in-directly force Jennings from the foot of the mountains. Ivan Cleary and Phil Gould both play their cards close to their chests, but Cleary’s comments at press conferences have been bizarre, and Gould’s talk that slips via the back door into the media sometimes seems disrespectful of his men.
One has to get the feeling that these 2 NRL ‘poker-playing’ figures are trying to use some reverse psychology on their main man. Although displaying actions that may support the idea that he is being shopped around may not work with Gen Y Jennings. In previous era’s if a player was to hear that he is not wanted at the club because he is not performing to his potential, it would more than likely have been a kick-into gear for the player. However in today’s age, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him spit the dummy and walk straight out. Hell, it looks like Michael Gordon has.
The Panthers are obviously in financial trouble from the pre-Gould management of the salary cap, and with Jennings reportedly on $600,000 without third-party arrangements, and the figure set to rise to $700,000 next year due to a back ended deal, it’s understandable for Gould and Clearly to be disappointed with Jennings’ performance. But why give Jennings the cold shoulder? His only a centre and the club were the ones who offered too much cash.
Gould is not new to rugby league and one cannot doubt his knowledge of the game but he is new to the financial management of the salary cap. Never before at a club has he been involved in the financial arrangements of contracts. He will, and has whined to the NRL about Penrith’s situation, and from a fan’s perspective Gould will probably try and sign a team of old-school solid ‘tradies’ that can be a ‘champion team, not a team of champions’. I get this feeling from his singing of Clint Newton, a premiership winning player who is a family man with no baggage. But is he really that good of a player? And surely there would have been a reserve grader who could have filled a 2nd –row spot? Blake Austin has made the jump up from the juniors and looks sensational.
Penrith need Michael Jennings more than ever, to ship him off would be a disaster in a number of ways. Financially it might give them some room to move, but who are they going to sign? They will still have to pay Luke Walsh’s contract if they sign another playmaker. The solution is to wait it out. In 2-3 years all contracts drawn-up by past administration will be finished. Sign Jennings for 300K on the cap when his re-newel comes up. Do the same with all the other players on over’s.
Penrith’s situation in the condensed rugby league market of Sydney is interesting. They sit far enough away that you sometimes forget about them, which isolates them from alliances that other clubs like the Dogs, Tigers, Rabbits and Roosters have formed to share marketing and promotional strategies. With expansion on the cards and the un-written idea that one Sydney club might not survive one day, Penrith’s isolation might be viewed as concerning. But Gus knows this is actually their strength. His on record as saying he wants the ‘Panthers’ brand to be one of the most recognisable in Australian sport in 10 years. Gould has even gone as far as registering names like ‘Western Sydney Panthers’ with trademark agencies. It looks like suburban stadiums won’t be used in the future with a similar AFL style set-up with 2 stadiums for all the clubs, but Penrith’s little bit of isolation may see them become like Geelong in Melbourne, who are the only team in Victoria to not play at the 2 big grounds. GWS entered the Sydney sport’s scene this year and being the furthest team west, the Panthers appear to be putting up a one-club fight against the AFL. The A-league will even enter a new team this year. This is why Jennings is vital for the success of the Panthers. He is worth more to the club promotionally than any other player on their books.  
He's come right through the club’s junior system. He's lived in St Mary’s his whole life. He has a cultural background. He has 2 brothers in the Panthers system right now. He is the ideal man to be the face of a club, promote everything it represents and importantly for the NRL and Panthers, fight the other codes off in the West. He is almost like the Izzy Falou of the Panthers, appealing to those of Pacific Islander background and those who live in the district who can see anyone can make it to the big-time, no matter what socio-economic background one comes from.  
Jennings current exile from the Panthers could be the best thing to happen to him. He was suspended after his origin haymaker and missed the weekend’s game against Manly, and won’t play before game 2 because Penrith have the bye next week. His origin episode showed a man frustrated with his critics, but his willingness to prove himself. He wants to prove he is a team player and has the right attitude. Hopefully Ricky is providing him with such a close, tight-knit family environment in the blues camp, that it will be the only places he feels comfortable right now. I say start the camp this week Ricky, get the fella’s that don’t play next weekend into camp now. Jennings is being banished from his club team, so stuff it he says, I’ll just play for the blues. There my team, there my mates, they like me and stick up for me here. If Ricky makes it a safe-haven for Jennings, and if he takes this attitude, he will be Man of the Match in game 2 at ANZ stadium.
Luke Lewis’ stripping of the captaincy is a head-spinner in itself, but his comments on the Jennings saga show some possible player discontent at the head-honcho partnership of Cleary and Gould. He identifies the problem saying "They should tell all the boys so everyone knows what's going on, Especially Michael Jennings”. Speaking with honesty and sending a clear message he says, "I think it's all talk, but where there's a spark there's a flame” and showing his support for his blues brother and Penrith partner, "I will go into bat for Michael Jennings a million times over, I don't want him to leave, he is one of my mates and always will be and if he needs me to go down fighting with him I will."

The pressure is sure to intensify on the Panthers as Parramatta can only cop it for so long. The bye might save them some grilling but I predict there will be some media presence around Mulgoa Road this week.

How good is this time of the year with ‘State of THE Origin’ being back!! The drama that comes with it, the NRL comp games see some debutants and strange matches, winter setting in etc. Can’t wait for game 2 to be in the Blatchy’s Blues section again! It was one of the best things I did in 2011. Also not having a crack at Penrith here just summing up a situation =) Personally I think Jennings was one the NSW best in game 1. Gee I hope he scores a couple in Sydney! Enjoy your League people.!

Adios, Max.