“All of that, getting him back just for Nathan. They were paying him and Nathan $2 million a year to perform the way that they were and I thought they just dug themselves into a hole. At the time, it didn’t seem like they had too much of a plan. At the time, I felt like it was pretty right. You know what? I was wrong.
“I just rang Dave and said, ‘Congratulations, I got it wrong last year’. Sometimes you have to wear some humble pie, but I don’t really care. I just want the club to be doing well. I care about that joint and I’m over the moon for them and whole community out there because I know what they go through. I couldn’t see a way out for them at the time. But they’ve turned it all around.”
Nathan’s late field goal earned his side a week off, helping the Panthers avoid the tough side of the draw. Had they lost to the Roosters they would have faced games against Canberra and Melbourne to make the grand final. Now they get a week off and await the winner of the Eels-Rabbitohs game next Saturday.
A lot has changed since Girdler’s comments on Triple M last year, which came a day after the club’s fifth straight loss and a week before they plummeted to bottom place on the ladder.
“I think you have to talk about the senior administration. I think it’s an absolute mess,” Girdler said on Triple M last year.
“I think they made decisions based on fear — fear of possibly losing a young player … I think they overpaid, I think they overpaid the halfback and they overpaid the coach based on fear. To alienate a guy like Phil Gould, and everyone’s got their own opinion of Gus, but to have a great footy mind like that involved in your club and to have administration going away and making decisions basically knowing that that’s going to force Gus’s hand into a redundancy, I think it’s basic stupidity.”
There were a number of people at the club, including players, who were hurt by Girdler’s comments at the time. O’Neill, however, who had a face-to-face conversation with the former Test centre in Perth before State of Origin II last June, says he was never offended by Girdler’s views.
“From an outsider looking in, it did look shit,” O’Neill admits. “We just had to bunker down and get on with it, and that’s what we did. Girds is a good guy. He’s a life member of our club.
“It’s great to hear the opinions of people like him. Sometimes you might not like what they have to say, but he’s earned the right to have them. You’ve got to give him credit for calling. It was great. I was really proud when he rang up and had a chat.”
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Michael Chammas is a sports reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald