So the panther is out of the bag: Wayne Bennett shook hands with Phil Gould last year and agreed to join Penrith as coach.
Only problem was Panthers chairman Dave ONeill was at the same time sipping coffee with Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary and the conversation got around to Cleary returning to the club so he could be with his son and halfback Nathan.
Its very rare that Bennett or Gould dont get their way. This time they did not: Cleary walked out on the Tigers and Bennett stayed at the Broncos before signing with Souths.
With Penrith spluttering their way into the season – and facing the Tigers this Friday night at Panthers Stadium, no less – the story is being used as evidence of a vast divide at the foot of the mountains. A divide between Gould, ONeill and Cleary.
It also hints at growing speculation that Gould is about to walk out on the club, having been coaxed back in 2010 to save it from oblivion.
ONeill says it means nothing. Just a mis-communication between chairman and his general manager of football. Theres no animosity between the two of them, he says. He simply admits he shouldve spoken to Gould first.
"It wasnt his [Goulds] mistake," ONeill said. "It was mine. Im big enough to admit that. Gus has been wonderful for us. I love him to death. He shouldnt be getting machine-gunned because of something I did.
"There is no-one more than me who wants to keep Gus at the club for the next 10 years. Gus has done an incredible job. I wouldnt want him to leave. Hes a very important part of our organisation.
"I have a great working relationship with Gus. Theres enough respect there that if I had a problem I would talk to him face-to-face and he would talk to me."
Ive got no interest in talking about the past. I wont be talking about it.
There are a few parts of the Bennett story that need to be explained.
First, its understood the approach came from Bennett, who was butting heads at the Broncos with chief executive Paul White on a daily basis because he couldnt get the contract upgrade he wanted.
Second, if Bennett was to come to Penrith it was for the 2019 season after Gould sacked Anthony Griffin midway through last year.
Third, there is dispute about whether Bennett actually agreed to come. Bennett was privately denying it to others on Monday. Only he and Gould know.
The Bennett-to-Penrith story is interesting but not fundamental to what might be going on at Penrith right now.
"Ive got no interest in talking about the past," Gould texted when asked for comment on Monday. "I wont be talking about it."
Whats more important is Goulds relationship with Cleary, who Gould moved out of Penrith in 2015 because he felt Cleary needed a break.
There has been an assumption that Cleary only returned to Penrith on the proviso that Gould was kept at "arms length" from the football department.
It seems like an extraordinary and unworkable condition to put on the general manager of football. While Goulds brief was never about the day-to-day running of the NRL team, it makes his position untenable if it was agreed to by O'Neill.
"That never came from me," ONeill said. "Theres never been a guarantee like that. Theres never been a conversation about that. I see Gus and Ivan working together every day. I dont see this disharmony between Gus and Ivan like other people say."
Goulds performance and tenure at Penrith has been questioned innumerable times in the past nine years – but hes never seemed so close to walking than he did last month when the sex-tape scandal dropped.
On the day Tyrone May was charged by police with two counts of recording intimaRead More – Source