Hook, line and sinker

In An­thony Grif­fin, Pen­rith might have found their own Wayne Ben­nett

Rugby League Week - - News - BY JOEL GOULD

W HEN PEN­RITH LE­GEND MARK GEYER pre­dicts a decade of suc­cess at the foot of the Blue Moun­tains un­der coach An­thony “Hook” Grif­fin, he’s telling you 51 years of his­tory is about to be rewrit­ten.

Pan­thers great Royce Sim­mons, with eight sea­sons at the helm, is the long­est-serv­ing coach at the club, which joined the comp in 1967. But Geyer’s adamant Grif­fin can stay with Pen­rith for a decade, and lead them to “two or three” pre­mier­ships.

MG be­lieves the men­tor’s suc­cess­ful emer­gence from Wayne Ben­nett’s shadow is unique, and it’s hard to ar­gue with him.

Fol­low­ing on from the Su­per­coach has proven a poi­soned chal­ice for Steve Price, Paul McGre­gor, Rick Stone, Nathan Brown and Ivan Hen­jak.

Grif­fin, on the other hand, took the Bron­cos to fi­nals foot­ball in three of his four years there, and got his new club there in 2016.

“Hook has in­her­ited such a young team, the sec­ondy­oungest apart from New­cas­tle, and the fact that he has put his own stamp on it is a god­send not only for Pen­rith but for him per­son­ally,” Geyer says.

“It’s very hard to re­bound into NRL coach­ing off the le­gend that is Wayne Ben­nett.

“You’re al­ways go­ing to be judged in com­par­i­son to the great man whether you like it or not . . . But I’d like to think Hook can em­u­late the bloke he fol­lowed in Bris­bane and be a 10-year coach at Pen­rith and win two or three pre­mier­ships.

“He’s got to be. I don’t think that’s out­landish con­sid­er­ing the ros­ter he’s got, the ju­nior de­vel­op­ment com­ing through and the new cen­tre of ex­cel­lence that’s been built.

“With what he’s done al­ready with this young team, I’m con­fi­dent Pen­rith will have a third pre­mier­ship ring soon.”

Geyer says Grif­fin’s coun­try de­meanour, hon­esty and player de­vel­op­ment skills have made him the per­fect fit.

His de­ci­sion to move Eli­jah Tay­lor and Jamie Soward on seemed brave at the time, but cor­rect in hind­sight.

“Hook iden­ti­fied the play­ers he wanted to keep, and let them know. But if he doesn’t want any­thing to do with you, he tells you as well,” Geyer says.

“Ev­ery­one knows where they stand with him. He brings what John Lang brought when he was coach of Pen­rith. He’s a man’s man. He sim­pli­fies things and he likes big, tough for­wards.

“He seems to be a coun­try bump­kin and we’re ba­si­cally as close to a coun­try team as you can get. So he’s the per­fect fit for a satel­lite city like Pen­rith.”

We asked Pan­thers play­ers whether Geyer was on the money about Grif­fin and got the thumbs-up.

“I didn’t usu­ally play wing, but Hook’s been re­ally good with my game prepa­ra­tion and helped me tweak a few things in my game to help me get bet­ter,” says Dallin Watene-Zelez­niak.

“I’m like a sponge at the mo­ment. Hook’s good at mak­ing sure the pres­sure is off.

“That’s the main thing Ivan [Cleary, former Pan­thers coach] and Hook have in com­mon is how they re­lax you – not in a bad way, but they’re both quiet with the way they talk to you. They don’t yell, and I re­spond to that.”

“He can be a 10-year coach at Pen­rith and win two or three pre­mier­ships”

Ty­rone Peachey says Grif­fin’s great­est skill is his abil­ity to get the best out of each player.

“Hook’s helped me mas­sively with my de­fence,” he says. “I’m not a big bloke but ev­ery week he has in­di­vid­ual video to help me fix my game in that area.

“Hook’s given me free rein to get as many car­ries as I can and that’s helped my game tremen­dously in the cen­tres.

“I thought I wouldn’t get as much ball at cen­tre but I am glad he’s given me that li­cence to roam and get as many touches as I can. That’s al­lowed me to play at my best.

“But I don’t know where you are hear­ing he doesn’t yell at you,” Peachey grins.

“I’ve copped a few sprays but I’ve copped it on the chin and moved on.”

Grif­fin came with a rep­u­ta­tion for get­ting the best out of young play­ers, as he did at the Bron­cos af­ter coach­ing many of that club’s cur­rent stars in the un­der-20s.

Pre­mier­ship-win­ning hero Scott Sat­tler got a first­hand view of how Grif­fin pre­pares his team be­fore the round 20 thrash­ing of Bris­bane last year.

“I was in the sheds be­fore An­thony de­liv­ered his pre-game strat­egy and it was a sim­ple, peel-the-lay­ers­back style of game plan where ev­ery­one knew their role,” Sat­tler re­veals.

“His mes­sage was about build­ing a game plan around energy and ag­gres­sion. He coaches to suit his squad. He knows he has a lot of young guys so he can’t com­pli­cate things too much.

“There’s no bull­shit about An­thony Grif­fin, and that’s what you want as a young guy. You want to know where you stand.

“He’s also made some tough calls on guys, like Jamie Soward. He’s moved Peter Wal­lace to hooker.

“They’re the hard calls that the good coaches make.”

— Mark Geyer

JUST THE BE­GIN­NING Mark Geyer says last year’s fi­nals win over the Dogs should be the first of many.

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