The Penrith Panthers feel an “obligation” to help develop players and the club is taking its plan to the next level by increasing its presence in the western area.
Penrith High Performance Manager Matt Cameron was at Dubbo last week, meeting with local rugby league stakeholders while also scouting locations for one of three expanded academies the club wants to have in conjunction with the Western Rams.
Cameron met with the principal of St John’s on Friday to discuss the use of the school’s facilities, namely the gym, for the Dubbo-based academy, while the other two would be based at Forbes and Bathurst.
These academies would work with the Western Rams under 16s and 18s sides in a pre and post-Christmas block of 10 weeks and the Panthers would not take over, the respective teams would still have local coaches, but the NRL club would be able to help assist and develop the coaches and programs.
With so much potential change in the NRL in the coming years, Cameron and his club is doing this to further strengthen its connection with the western areas, something which is set to be hugely beneficial for both parties.
Penrith already has a deal with Bathurst through the Panthers league club and the fact it will be taking one NRL match to the city until 2028 but Cameron says his club is determined to develop its relationship with the entire region.
“A traditional recruitment or development model is there’s some boys in the western area we identify at an early age and we bring them to Sydney at 18 … and they play in our SG Ball competition,” Cameron told the Daily Liberal.
“Alterations to the pathways model going forward, it looks like the stipulation will be NRL clubs won’t be able to bring players down until they’re 19 so philosophically we’ve decided if we can’t bring the players to us then we’ll being Penrith to the where the players are, hence the setting up of these three academies.”
While this move would help the club by forming a connection with the most talented players in the region, it is potentially sign of things to come in rugby league.
There is much speculation about the future of the game in this country and one idea tossed around is that of each NRL club being assigned a region and helping players from that area to develop.
“And is that a pre-cursor to an internal draft where an NRL club has first rights on a player that they develop in that area?” Cameron said.
“So there’s some other big long term plans that people at NRL level need to talk about but the Panthers believe we are a development club and it’s our responsibility to help the develop the game.
“We’ve adopted a region through the western area and we’re doing everything we can to help.”
While the draft is one option being discussed, the Panthers club has most options covered as it creates a number of long terms goals and aspirations.
The work the Penrith Panthers is planning now could potentially see a side from this area, featuring players from the western region, playing in a NSW Cup-like competition.
The current secondary competition under the NRL, the Intrust Super Premiership (ISP), looks set to be expanded from its current 12-team format to a 16-side one in the near future.
With four new sides to be found, the western area has been looked at as one potential base region, along with the Wagga and Albury area and also Tamworth.
“It would be quite easy to pinch players and parachute them into a team in a regional western centre but we don’t know if there would be a connection between the community and the team or the players,” Matt Cameron said of a western side with connections to his club playing in a new-look competition.
“We’ve done it at the Panthers and if you look at the first grade team a lot of those players have developed over a period of time into first graders so if we applied the same sort of model out here, if we can get these programs up and running we can develop and grow a group of players who could potentially make up part of an ISP team in three or four years time.
“They would be local players playing from a local centre and still have a connection to the local community and that community has a connection to the team and stuff like that.”
A further benefits would be as promising players from the region would not have to pack up and move to Sydney.
Staying at home would be a huge boost for many a junior, but there’s already a strong core group of western juniors already at the Panthers.
Many Western Rams juniors could potentially end up in Penrith Panthers colours should the NRL club’s plans for the region come to fruition.
While that would be a huge boost, it would also be nothing new with many country juniors going to the foot of the mountains.
Dubbo’s Kaide Ellis and Parkes young gun Billy Burns are currently making waves in the lower grades while Wellington product Tyrone Peachey is a first grade regular but St John’s junior Isaah Yeo is the current standout among the Panthers’ western batch.
Yeo has hit career best form this season and Cameron said he brings more than his football skills to the table.
“Yeoy is a great young man and it’s nice to go out to the school he went to and meet some of his former teachers and that’s really the last piece of the puzzle, to see where he’s come from,” he said.
“He’s flourished into a really, really good first grade player and I can see him playing a lot of games for the Penrith Panthers.”
Matt Cameron has a meeting with his club in the coming days where he will discuss his plans and potential growth of the club in the western area.