INTERVIEW: Why Panthers star nearly left the club
FORMER NRL star, Ryan Girdler holds a truckload of records and representative honours from his illustrious career. He played 227 NRL games, 10 games for NSW and 14 games for Australia. He was the first player to reach 100 tries and 500 goals. These days, Girdler calls games with the Triple M radio team, runs coffee shops and he is the ambassador for the Cheeki brand of reusable water bottles. In this chat, Girdler shares how he almost left the Panthers, why he needed to step away from the game and why he said no to a role with Channel 9.
Matt Collins: You love your coffee, you got into running cafes straight after your playing days.
Ryan Girdler: Yeah, I always enjoyed small business. My parents had newsagencies and butcher shops. So when I took over the coffee shops in 2004, it was really in its infancy here in Australia, being done in a speciality way.
MC: Penrith Panther fans, will remember you as one of the greatest to put on the Panthers jersey. What are some of your greatest memories of your playing days?
RG: It seems so long ago to be honest with you. Winning the '03 grand final is definitely the highlight. Also being able to represent my state and country are things you always want to do as a kid growing up. I really enjoyed being part of an organisation for a long period of time. I was fortunate enough to go to Penrith in '93 and stayed there until 2005. I went through all the trials and tribulations and different eras. We would have a little bit of success and then we had a few years there where we didn't do so well.
MC: Was there ever a point where you nearly left the Panthers?
RG: Early on, I signed in '92. I was a 19-year-old kid who had grown up in Woolongong. I didn't even know where Penrith was to be honest. But Freddy (Brad Fittler) was a good friend of mine, we had played rep footy together growing up. Gus (Phil Gould) was a very persuasive individual, and he got in my ear and got me to go out there. A couple of years later, Gus decided to up and leave and Freddy went with him. So I was feeling a little bit isolated. I sort of moved up because of that. My parents suggested I come home. I spoke to Illawarra at the time and they said they'd love to have me back. I ended up going into see Royce Simmons and I said, 'you know, I wouldn't mind going home'. But he wasn't going to let me go.
MC: After footy, were you always going to step into the media?
RG: No, I certainly wasn't. Sometimes you have to work out what you don't want to do before you know what you do want. I had a relationship with Channel 9 and they were keen to get me onboard. But I kind of realised I needed to step away from the game for a while. I wanted to do some travel, I wanted to tick some other boxes. Obviously going into professional sport at 17, I watched all my friends go through uni and go to all the parties and I really missed all that. I was quite envious. All my mates would say, 'what do you have to be envious of? You're a professional athlete'. I would say, 'yeah, but I missed a lot of those things'. Like 21sts and weddings. So I just didn't want to give my weekends up again.