With glassy eyes and unsteady voice, Matt Moylan fronted the media for the first time in two weeks and said he wanted to continue as Penrith captain. He said it. He certainly didn’t insist it. He didn’t put anything to bed.
“Nothing’s changed,” insisted Moylan after his side’s 28-2 loss to Cronulla at Pepper Stadium on Sunday. “It’s a job I want to do. It’s an honour to captain a club like this and that hasn’t changed.”
This was Moylan’s first match back after coach Anthony Griffin stood him down ??? along with Peta Hiku and Waqa Blake ??? for breaking curfew following the loss to the Storm in Melbourne earlier this month. Don’t worry about the incident because there really was no incident. Yet this whole episode has revealed how uncomfortable Moylan is with the captaincy.
The players were specifically told after the Storm loss to not leave the team hotel, where they were sharing a couple of beers in the bar. That the captain was one of three to defy the coach’s orders, if only for a couple more drinks at a bar around the corner, suggests he either doesn’t want the job or doesn’t fully understand what it involves.
“Obviously, it was a mistake,” Moylan said of breaking curfew. “We missed out on an opportunity and we owe it to our teammates for what we done last week. We have to repay them … It’s something that was brought on by myself. I’m just working through it. I just want to play footy.”
Many people who know Moylan are adamant he isn’t a captain. The man himself has never shied away from the fact that he is, at best, a reluctant one. When I spoke to him at the season launch earlier this year, he talked about how much he agonised about taking on the role in the first place.
“I didn’t know if I wanted it,” hesaid.
At 25, Moylan has many seasons left to play. There’s plenty of time to get it right. It’s not like he’s getting much wrong.
But if he needed a reminder of what it’s like to finish a career with regret, he should listen to a replay of Craig Gower’s interview with Triple M before the game. Gower captained the Panthers to the 2003 premiership, played for Australia and NSW. His name is plastered on the eastern grandstand at Pepper Stadium alongside Greg Alexander’s, so important has he been to this club.
But many will always remember him as the footballer who flashed an Irish backpacker at the Coogee Bay Hotel in 1999, then went mad at the Jack Newton Celebrity Golf Classic in late 2005, then bit a man on the neck at a Kings Cross bar in 2007.
Asked what he would tell his 19-year-old self, Gower said: “Pull your head in”.
The overriding message to any young player is to make the most of the limited opportunity you have. Earlier this year, Moylan was considered the frontrunner to play at five-eighth for NSW in the State of Origin opener on May 31. That opportunity is slipping. His patchy performance against the Sharks reflects the way the Panthers have played so far this season.
They have so much talent they don’t know what to do with it. From Moylan’s sleight of hand to Tyrone Peachey’s footwork, they’re easy on the eye. Blake has a running style that should be framed and put on a wall. But nobody will ever remember it if he’s not on the end of a backline movement.
Against the Sharks, a pretty side was constricted to death by a teamof genuine substance.
Cronulla were supposed to slide down the pole after winning the grand final. With hardened players like James Maloney, Wade Graham and Luke Lewis, they have the same bloody mindedness in attack and defence that lifted them last year to their first premiership.
In the first half, Penrith twice made blunders with the ball. From the next set of six, Cronulla scored. That’s what they do: they make the opposition pay.
In the second half, Maloney steered the Sharks downfield and soon after captain Paul Gallen was charging onto the ball and scoring from close range. That’s when the Penrith fans got up and started to leave the stadium. Not that long ago, their team was premiership favourites. Unfortunately for Moylan and his teammates, they couldn’t leave for another 20 minutes.
For his part, Griffin is adamant he wants Moylan right where he is.
“The last couple of weeks have been a tough period for everybody,” he said. “Matt’s the captain of our club. That’s not going to change from our end. We’re going to help him develop. He’s shown a lot of strength of character in the last two weeks. That’s going to hold him in good stead. Matt’s the captain of our club and I want him that role.”