While the sex-tape scandal took an emotional toll on the Panthers, the Herald has learned of several other incidents that caused further turmoil and division among the playing group.
In one, a player caused damage to a teammate’s car when he became angry and threw a punch.
Club insiders have also revealed how a young player was forced to skip an interstate game, much to the anger of his teammates, because his partner refused to let him travel.
There was also the constant stress behind the scenes for officials trying to shed players because the club was close to being $1 million over the cap for the 2020 season.
Penrith have since offloaded Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Waqa Blake to Canterbury and Parramatta respectively, while veteran James Maloney will take up a lucrative deal in the south of France, even though former football boss Phil Gould never planned on his No.6 hanging around for the third and final year of his contract next season.
Coach Ivan Cleary would not have envisaged so many off-field headaches and has done well to get the group, including eight debutants, to within touching distance of September.
The sex-tape scandal which surfaced in the weeks leading up to round one led to Tyrone Phillips ultimately quitting the club while another player, Tyrone May, was sidelined under the NRL’s no-fault stand-down policy.
May will have his charges of recording and distributing intimate images without consent heard in court in November after pleading not guilty in June.
Gould labelled the scandal at the time as “grade-five stupidity and naivety”.
Looking ahead, Penrith will have cash to splash on the open market if they can offload Reagan Campbell-Gillard, one of the best-paid props in the game who is locked away until the end of 2024.
Maloney will do everything to make sure he bows out of the NRL with one last finals hurrah.
Keary was meant to wear Maloney’s NSW No.6 jersey in this year’s Origin series but was ruled out with concussion.
“Jimmy has been great, I love watching him. He’s a character, and what he has done for NSW, he’s a special player,” Keary said. “They love him around here, too. He’s been to a thousand clubs. It’s sad to see him leave.”
Confident Penrith would be desperate and tough at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Keary was even more certain about what he would do if partner Amy went into labour.
“I’m on call now. It will be this week or next week,” Keary said. “You’re there for the birth of your child. I’ve spoken to the boys about it in here. It’s gone quickly, and she’s studied everything and fills me in on the run. We’re excited.”
The Roosters are chasing a seventh straight win and could welcome the return of skipper Boyd Cordner and Latrell Mitchell from calf injuries.
Keary also knows his time learning off Cooper Cronk is coming to an end, but quipped: “Hopefully he sticks around next year and does something. You never know, he might be our assistant. I’m only joking.
“I’ve got a lot out of him. He’s been unbelievable. It’s his temperament, not just as a footy player but as a person. You can see the influence he’s had on us the last two years. It speaks for itself.”
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.