Former Panthers coach Matthew Elliott will return to Penrith for the first time as an assistant with the Roosters. Photo: Getty Images
FORMER Penrith coach Matthew Elliott has ridiculed suggestions the club is in turmoil because the players have had too much say in how it's run.
Elliott, now an assistant at the Roosters, will return to Centrebet Stadium for the first time on Sunday since his controversial sacking last year. With club favourite Luke Lewis signing with Cronulla and constant rumblings over the future of Michael Jennings, it has been suggested the players are shocked by the hardline approach of the new coach, Ivan Cleary.
However, Elliott rubbished any notion the players had too much say in the running of the organisation during his tenure.
"There was only one person picking teams," he said. "There was certainly only one person developing the strategy. You'd have to be insane to [ignore] a guy like [former captain] Petero Civoniceva, who has a strong understanding of what's going on in the place, to not be consulting with him regularly.
"I spent a lot of time with Petero and at times I sought his thoughts, but never was he involved in decision-making processes."
Asked if he thought the perception the players had run the club in the past was unfair, Elliott replied: "It's not unfair – it's just not true."
The former Dragons back-rower said Lewis, who was controversially stripped of the captaincy, would not have decided to part ways with the Panthers lightly.
"I really feel for 'Lewie' in that circumstance because I know how much the club means to him," he said. "He is not someone who is flippant about his allegiance and love for the club. I know that's a tough thing but maybe in the long run that's better for him. If that's the case, it will be better for the club as well. But there's some short-term pain associated with that."
Asked how he would have handled the captaincy issue if still at the club, Elliott said: "I'm not prepared to go there. What I would and wouldn't have done is based on my experience. Lewie has fantastic leadership qualities and in my time I acknowledged how committed he was to the organisation. But Ivan's in a tough spot as well and I've got a heap of admiration for the way he's always conducted himself.
"He's always come across as a high-quality person and I've never been exposed to him being any different or heard anything different about him. He would have had his reasons for doing it and I respect how hard it would have been to share those reasons. It was a tough situation for all concerned."
Jennings is also said to be on the outer, spending time in the NSW Cup following a string of misdemeanours. However, Elliott said the NSW centre's commitment could not be questioned. "There may have been one or two minor punctuality issues, but I didn't really have an issue with him at all."
Despite being punted a year after guiding the team to second place on the competition ladder, Elliott handled the situation with dignity. The Panthers are perhaps travelling worse now than when he was sacked and they are a chance of claiming the spoon. However, the 47-year-old refuses to bag the club and even agrees officials made the right decision to move him on.
"It didn't enhance my credibility as a coach, there's no doubt about it. But pushing selfish things aside, I don't think the change that needed to be executed could have been achieved with me there. That's the truth of it.
"A lot of survival mode occurs in those circumstances and you can understand people looking after their own future. But as a head coach you take on the responsibility of doing the best for an organisation. The best thing for the organisation certainly wasn't for me to remain. I agree with that. I don't necessarily agree that it was my coaching which put the organisation into the situation it was in and I don't agree that the decisions I made put them into the financial place they're in."
Elliott, who hopes to be a head coach again, admitted visiting Centrebet Stadium as a Rooster rather than a Panther would be surreal. "It's going to be awkward."