NRL club Penrith Panthers plan to take on bigger role in the development of juniors in western area

LOCAL: Former Parkes Marist junior Billy Burns debuted with the Under 20s Penrith Panthers in June 2016, after signing with the side in November 2015.

LOCAL: Former Parkes Marist junior Billy Burns debuted with the Under 20s Penrith Panthers in June 2016, after signing with the side in November 2015.

The Penrith Panthers NRL club is spreading its reach even further west and looks set to play a major role in the development of junior talent in the region.

While a report in metro media on the weekend had many thinking the Panthers club was keen to be part of a competition in the western area, the focus will instead be on junior talent.

Any move still needs to be cleared by the Country Rugby League (CRL) board but Penrith is keen to take a more hands-on approach in junior coaching in teams under the Western Rams banner while also potentially fielding sides of its own in an expanded Southern Pool in the Country Championships.

Penrith is formulating that plan with the view to reportedly eventually field an Intrust Super Premiership side out of Bathurst, to help juniors from the region ease into the NRL program rather than packing up their lives and moving to the city.

The CRL’s Regional Manager Western, Peter Clarke, said any move like that is a long way down the path but said it was likely the NRL club would using its expertise and facilities to help young, country-based players.

The Panthers has already been helping develop talent in the region, having assisted in pre-season academy session for the past three years.

“It will be an extension on those,” Clarke said.

“There’s been one at Dubbo and Bathurst in the last couple of years to assist and help develop players and get them to a certain level without having them have to leave home.”

Panthers’ high performance manager Matt Cameron has been a major player in the club’s movement into regional areas and has been on hand at academy sessions in the past.

MOVING FORWARD: Dubbo's Isaah Yeo is one of the many western juniors already playing week in, week out in the Penrith Panthers colours and he has been one of the NRL side's best this year. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MOVING FORWARD: Dubbo's Isaah Yeo is one of the many western juniors already playing week in, week out in the Penrith Panthers colours and he has been one of the NRL side's best this year. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

He and the club’s chief executive Brian Fletcher, himself originally from Coonamble, are keen for the Panthers to increase the club’s footprint in the western area even more.

With the club already linked with Bathurst, the NRL side will play a match a season there until 2028, the plan is for an Intrust Super Premiership side to be based there to help players avoid any issues which could occur when moving to the city at a young age.

For all the money they are spending, grassroots participation is down 15 per cent. It's not down 15 per cent at Penrith. - Penrith chief executive Brian Fletcher

"We're excited by it, we believe it's a blueprint for other regions in the future," CRL Operations Manager Bert Lowrie said, before reiterating the fact his board would have to give it the green light before any serious move by the Panthers was made.

The success of Penrith's regional programs adds further weight to the push for NRL clubs to be assigned a grassroots country area to invest in.

"The NRL is talking about spending $100 million on grassroots," Fletcher said.

"If everyone was doing this, you'd only need to spend about $20 million and save $80 million.

“For all the money they are spending, grassroots participation is down 15 per cent. It's not down 15 per cent at Penrith."

The Penrith club has helped developed many talents in the western region go on to the highest level with Dubbo CYMS product Isaah Yeo one of the side’s best players in the NRL this season while former Parkes junior Billy Burns has been making great strides in the lower grades and played Australian Schoolboys last year.

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