He’s been dubbed the "Success Architect", a moniker earned leading countless Olympic athletes and other Australian sporting stars to the very top. And now Bill Nelson has emerged as a key figure in Penrith’s storied run to the grand final.
Nelson, of Total Performance Concepts, has worked with Ivan Cleary since his first coaching stint at the foot of the mountains. More recently, Nelson has also been working with the players to help shape the club's culture to ensure the Panthers fulfil their potential.
“The journey we’ve been on is one about how we bring this group together,” said Nelson, a former distance coach for the Australian swimming team.
“Culture is a very overused word; it’s a word that isn’t that well understood.
“The ability to trust each other, the ability to communicate, the ability to take responsibility, the ability to hold each other to account, the ability to understand, take pride in and fulfil your role – all of these elements these days come under the term culture.
“It’s a buzzword in some respects, but it has validity if you understand it and know how to shape it, to get people to take ownership of it.
“One of the hallmarks with this team is they came to an agreement as to what they wanted to be as a football team.”
The Panthers have won 17 straight headking into Sunday's NRL grand final.Credit:Getty
In a bid to foster trust, Panthers players regularly participate in "vulnerability sessions", in which they open up to each other about their personal and professional journey. The exercise has created a tight bond in a team that has won 17 straight matches.
Another hallmark of successful teams, according to Nelson, is recruiting players who uphold the club’s values, rather than just picking the best footballers.
“The winning is in the picking,” Nelson said. “It’s hard because rugby league is a skill-orientated sport. But if you realise that to get the best out of people you need the right environment and culture to work, you need the right sort of people as well.
“There are many phrases thrown around and ... one [at Penrith is] respect the past but create the future.
“That hasn’t been bandied about so much, but it’s a good platform to launch.
Culture guru Bill Nelson.
“A lot has been said about the earlier Panthers teams; there is a respect for what has come before.
“The fact of the matter is that 17 guys will run onto the field on Sunday night that have the honour and privilege to represent a club that is steeped in history. But they also have a responsibility to uphold the things people have done for them to allow them that opportunity.
“Is there a specific mantra? No. But there’s been a vision from day one to get to this grand final and win it.
“There is an understanding of what is needed to be done to allow that to happen.”
Nelson’s client list is impressive. The former national distance swimming coach has worked with pool stars including Kieren Perkins, Grant Hackett and Michael Klim, surfing world champion Joel Parkinson, basketball coach Brian Goorjian and is currently helping the Hockeyroos prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.
Nelson said the Panthers embraced the changes required to succeed after a disappointing 2019 campaign.
“They had an ability to recognise things had to change and had a preparedness to go on that journey,” he said.
“There was a huge level of trust between the players themselves and the staff. That’s the principle that makes this group work so well – they are all in.
“They needed to recognise that the world is full of unfulfilled potential and not to become one of those teams.”