Two weeks since inviting himself to tour Penrith’s new academy, former NRL player Corey Payne has landed the biggest office in the joint after being announced as the club’s new CEO.
Just three years after retiring following Canterbury’s 2012 grand final loss to Melbourne, Payne returns as not only the youngest CEO in the game, but also the heir apparent to Panthers supremo Phil Gould.
“We’re in a perfect position with the foundations in place for a strong commercially and corporate-minded CEO to come in and take this club to the new level. I can’t do that,” Gould said on Friday.
“Corey Payne can do that, and that’s why he’s our new CEO.”
Payne recalled how a chance email to view Penrith’s recently opened $22 million headquarters led to discussions on Gould’s search to replace now Wests Tigers boss Justin Pascoe after his departure late last year.
By Friday, the 31-year-old was handed the keys to the club.
“It’s the best training facility in the southern hemisphere and the best opportunity to attract, develop and retain talent in rugby league,” Payne said.
“I was excited by it and I asked Gus ‘who is going to be leading the show here?’ and ‘who is the CEO?’.
“He said they’re looking for one. That’s when I told him I’d be pretty interested in having a discussion about that to which Gus responded, ‘Be careful for what you wish for’.”
Payne played 131 games across eight seasons in the NRL with St George Illawarra, Wests Tigers and the Bulldogs.
Gould said he was more impressed with Payne’s post-retirement resume, which included a masters of commerce, and being the founder of a not-for-profit organisation to help kids pursue higher education.
Payne was also named NSW Young Australian of the Year in 2013 and, more recently, spent 10 months working with Woolworths.
“While (being a former player) may prove a benefit as a sporting administrator, it’s the least of what Corey brings to the table as far as credentials and qualifications for this role go,” Gould said.
“Corey’s performances away from the playing field are a real success story for the NRL in general.”
Payne’s appointment could be the final big decision for Gould, who recently said that finding a new CEO would complete his job at the club.
However, the 58-year-old was unwilling to speculate on his future at Penrith.
“It’s been always my goal that the next CEO of this organisation was seen as the boss of Panthers and perceived that way from the outside and within,” he said.
“My role is not really up for discussion today. It’s more about Corey’s appointment.”