Andrew Webster: Every indication you've given in the last year or so is that your time at Penrith would end sooner than later. What's changed?
Phil Gould: Just how far we've come, and what we've put in place. I've asked a number of people to join our club – coaches, players and management – over the last 18 months. They've all shown confidence in us and joined in good faith, so I can't really walk away from them until we've spent a fair bit of time together. It's all looking really good. I'm really happy with how the club is placed at the moment. The fact our board of directors will be returned unopposed at the next election is also a vote of confidence in what they're doing. Our junior development systems are in place, and are the best in rugby league – certainly the best I've seen at Penrith in my time over the last 35 years. Winning the NYC competition last year was huge for our club and district. We're seeing the benefits of that in recruitment and the young players coming through. I honestly believe our NRL teams for 2015-17 are now in the building. The next three years is about bringing these talented kids through to NRL level to play with the experienced players we have recruited. We've had several high-profile, quality players join our club over the last 12 months. That's a vote of confidence. We've extended the contracts of the coaching staff. All looks good.
AW: When you took over in May 2011, did you envisage the club being where it is now?
PG: Not this quickly, no. We've worked really hard. It's not just about rugby league. The majority of my work has been anything but rugby league, but it's the football that sells the Panthers brand. It sells our club. No, I thought it would take a lot longer to get to this point, so that's good.
AW: You were days away from having no club at all, because of crippling debt.
PG: The best signing we've made is [Panthers Group chief executive] Warren Wilson. I don't know where we'd be without Warren and his guidance and expertise sorting out the issues Panthers Group had. It's all just been hard work and perseverance.
AW: What about your footy side?
PG: I'm pleasantly surprised with how far we've come in a short space of time.
AW: Are you thinking premierships?
PG: Well, to be honest, that's all we're thinking about now. We had a lot of work to do to clean up the football program. We've been in a rebuilding phase for the last couple of years. There were some difficult times in the early days, but you have to go through a little bit of pain to get where we are now. As I've said to the players, the thing about Penrith now is that we're not in this competition to make up the numbers. We're not even in it to run second. Everything we do from now on is about winning. That's what we're chasing: being the best and most consistent sporting franchises in the country. We're in a position to set off on that course now.
AW: When you talked about becoming the strongest sporting brand in the country, it was easily dismissed as hyperbole. Did you genuinely believe it?
PG: I've believed it for 35 years at Penrith. I guess other people have said it in the past, but the proper foundations weren't put in place to make it possible. The foundations we're putting in place, the facilities we're building, the programs we've got, our relationship with the community, I have no doubt that we can be the biggest and the best in the next 10 years. We had to go through what we went through in the last two seasons to put ourselves in a position to do that.
AW: Has your role changed?
PG: It's hard to define my job. I'm really just a consultant to the club, on a number of issues. My role for Penrith is hard to describe. It's been very much out of my comfort zone, but I'm glad I've done it and been through it. The most exciting times are ahead for the club. I really believe that. We represent such a large area. The Penrith junior league runs from Blacktown to Katoomba, and the Hawkesbury down to Wallacia. Why wouldn't you want the rugby league franchise that represents that area to be the No. 1 sporting franchise in the country? There's no excuse for it not to be. And we will be.
AW: And what about Greater Western Sydney and the AFL? Is that battle over?
PG: For me, the battle is about us being the best we can be. I'm confident that while we are the best we can be, rugby league can be the premier sport in western Sydney.
AW: Michael Jennings and Luke Lewis left this club on your watch. Do you regret those departures?
PG: People call them tough decisions when they were the right decision for the time. All those people are in a better place and so are we. They're the tough decisions we had to make, given where the club was at the time and where we want to be in the future.
AW: Did the fans ever waver in their support for what you were doing? Did anyone ever express their concerns?
PG: I've never actually heard any criticism or negativity. Any negativity comes from people in the media who want to stir up that type of sentiment. The vast majority of intelligent people have been supportive and well-informed on where we are going. And they're now starting to see what it's all about.