Hook, line and sinker
In Anthony Griffin, Penrith might have found their own Wayne Bennett
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.