In an extraordinary display of unity in the face of unspecified Australian Crime Commission allegations levelled against his club, Penrith supremo Phil Gould led 350 members of his organisation into an ASADA briefing yesterday afternoon.
After Gould met ASADA last Thursday, he asked the officials to relay the same message to the entire organisation, who he said had been dragged through the mud since being implicated in the Australian Crime Commission report.
Coach Ivan Cleary led the first-grade side, followed by every player and official at the club from the Harold Matthews to the Windsor Wolves, into Panthers Leagues Club at 4.30pm on Tuesday for a dose of reality.
The Panthers have been informed that they have an ''extremely low'' involvement in the report because of a minor link to a key person in the investigation.
Despite the club admitting that no past or present players were involved in the drug fiasco, Gould couldn't hide his frustration over being linked to the scandal that has rocked Australian sport.
''There is no doubt that this has been damaging, not just here at Panthers, but to other people - Australian sport and most clubs have been implicated in it,'' Gould said.
''It smears the name and the brand of a lot of innocent people. That's something you don't get back in a hurry. We are bitterly disappointed that even though we have such a minimal risk exposure to this, from day one our name has been thrown around as part of that report.''
Unlike other NRL clubs, the Panthers haven't lost any sponsorship or corporate support as a result of the investigation.
They say they have nothing to hide, hence they asked ASADA out to the foot of the mountains to tell the players and staff of their investigations. Penrith Panthers Group chief executive Warren Wilson said the club was considering legal action after their reputation was tarnished as a result of the implication.
''We've got a legal team on our behalf that's been engaged,'' he said.
''We'll have a look at all that. We're not shying away from that. We can put our hand on our heart and say as an organisation we've done nothing wrong.''
Gould was firm in his stance that ''ASADA are our friend not our enemy'', giving his full support to their inquiry despite the club's public embarrassment.
''When you are implicated or have your name linked to something like this, and as serious as this, there is a massive amount of people it affects,'' he said.
''That's why it's totally unfair and totally unnecessary that this was played out in the public arena like it was.
''Even with our very minimal risk and low priority from day one, the public would perceive us part of the very serious allegations that were made in the report.''
The Panthers were keen to reiterate their innocence and clear any concerns their players and staff might have.
Wilson believes Tuesday's briefing was a show of strength at the club and a clear indication of their stance on the matter.
''We've taken the high road on everything here,'' Wilson said.
''We've had a look at all our policies internally and all our procedures and methodologies. This was all part of the whole exercise of going through this and basically saying we're not going to hide, we're not going to cower.
''We're belt and bracing our whole operation here to make sure that it's all right and it's all done properly.''
- Sydney Morning Herald
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