The relationship between the Penrith Panthers and CEO Corey Payne has ended in tears and a shock resignation.
After just four months in the top job, the man described by Phil Gould as a “natural fit” for the Panthers has walked away from the gig “to pursue overseas business opportunities”.
But it’s a story nobody is likely to believe.
The Western Weekender understands that Payne was essentially told to pack up his desk after a range of issues made his position untenable.
The “resignation” story is about as believable as the Tooth Fairy but is designed to protect Payne’s reputation and allow the Panthers to move forward.
Panthers Group CEO Brian Fletcher confirmed to the Weekender on Tuesday afternoon that he would assume the vacant role of Football CEO moving forward.
“I will now also be acting as the CEO of Football, which I did back in March and April when I first joined Panthers. We’ll be going back to that structure moving forward,” he said.
“The matter will be reviewed at the end of the football season but long term we’ll probably continue with myself in that role pending there are no hiccups in the short term.
“The football structure, under the leadership of Phil Gould and coach Anthony Griffin, is in very good hands. In terms of the Marketing and Membership departments, we have good people in those positions as well.
“I don’t anticipate it to be too strenuous to oversee the lot of it.”
The Weekender broke the news that Payne was set to part ways with the Panthers on Saturday night.
Payne was appointed as one of the youngest CEOs in the game’s history in April, with much fanfare surrounding the appointment.
“I’m very excited by the opportunity to join the Panthers,” Payne said at the time.
“Over the last five years Phil Gould has put the club back in a financially viable position, ensured the salary cap is in good shape and established solid foundations on which we can build for the future.
“There is a fantastic feeling about the club and I’m looking forward to being part of it.”
The relationship between the Panthers and Payne quickly began to sour and the Weekender has learned that several staff members voiced their concerns about Payne’s management style.
It is believed a number of other issues are also at play.
When he appointed Payne, Gould said: “Panthers is a club of the future. We are delighted that Corey Payne will now be the man to help guide that future and achieve the high aspirations we have for this club.”
Payne joins a long list of high profile departures from the Panthers in recent times including previous CEO Justin Pascoe, who joined the Wests Tigers, and Group CEO Warren Wilson.
Payne’s legacy is likely to be the bizarre “apology” letter he sent to rugby league fans when the Rugby League World Cup snubbed western Sydney, which ultimately led to the sacking of the tournament’s manager, Michael Brown.
– additional reporting by Troy Dodds
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.