Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has admitted his side "went off a cliff" in the wake of the club's sex tape scandal and it was the disruptive force behind its abysmal start to the NRL season.
The Panthers moved towards getting back on track, and provisionally lifted from the bottom of the ladder, with a 16-10 victory over Parramatta at Bankwest Stadium on Thursday.
The Panthers were installed as title fancies before a ball was kicked in 2019 but went winless over the previous six weeks — their worst losing streak in 17 years.
The club was sent into a tailspin during the pre-season after three sex tapes involving players were leaked on the internet.
Tyrone May was subsequently charged with two counts of recording an intimate image without consent and two counts of disseminating an image without consent, and stood down under the NRL's no-fault rule.
And Cleary made the frank admission it affected the club more than he had thought.
"The fact is we've got a very young team," the coach said. "And a lot of the external pressures, and some other things, particularly at the start of the year when we had the video scandal, that had an enormous toll on our team.
"I didn't even know how much. But our young guys, it rattled them. Because we went off a cliff at the start of the year. A lot of them have been under pressure, the whole club has been."
Penrith lost several senior players over the previous two seasons and Cleary said the leadership group struggled to keep the side together.
"There was a lot of uncertainty around it," Cleary said. "The dynamic of our team has changed since last year.
"Our leadership has got a fair bit to go. Our guys are doing the best job they can do.
"When you lose a captain like Peter Wallace and some other guys that had a big say in the dynamic of the team. Our teamwork has suffered.
"That's the plan moving forward, build a bit of teamwork and leadership so that the sum becomes bigger than the individuals. I thought it was a good start tonight."
Cleary said the sex tape scandal put everyone on edge over the last several months but he's confident they have turned a corner.
"There was certainly a lot of scrutiny on our boys and you can't measure it really," he said.
"All we know is we had an amazing pre-season, everyone was looking great, basically one day before our biggest trial we struggled a bit.
"We lost a few close games and that rocked our confidence. Our teamwork has definitely suffered."