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History of the Penrith Panthers

A brief history of the Panthers




Although rugby league had been played in Penrith since 1912 it was not until the 1960s that serious consideration was given to promoting a local team to the elite division.




In 1967, the Penrith Panthers made it - being accepted along with Cronulla-Sutherland, into the Sydney 1st Division Premiership.

As late as 1966 Penrith had played in the 2nd Division wearing blue and white. But on elevation to the top grade they found that Cronulla-Sutherland had already registered blue, white and black.

At that time Newtown were also playing in royal blue and there was the well-known blue and white strip of Canterbury, as such a decision was made to change the club colours to brown and white.

The Panther had been chosen as the Penrith emblem in 1964 after a public competition was won by a graphic artist from Emu Plains named Deidre Copeland.

The first premiership team was: Bill Tonkin, Bob Landers, Dave Applebee, Ern Gillon, Wayne Peckham, Maurie Raper, Laurie Fagan, Tony Brown (captain), Wal Crust, Bill McCall, Geoff Waldie, Barry Harris and Ron Workman.

The team played its first pre-season trial against Cronulla-Sutherland on February 24th. Penrith won 18-12, in front of a crowd of 18,768.

Their first premiership match was against Canterbury on April 2nd and Penrith led 12-10 until the final 15 minutes, when Canterbury overhauled them to win 15-12.

On April 23rd, 1967 Penrith Park was officially opened with a match between the Panthers and the reigning premiers, St George.

The Panthers won 24-12 in front of 12,201 spectators. Penrith finished the season in 11th place, with 12 points from five wins, two draws and 11 losses.

The team's results were mixed over the years until 1990 when Penrith reached its first grand final, where Canberra beat them 18-14.

That year, four Penrith players - Brad Fittler, John Cartwright, Greg Alexander and Mark Geyer were named in the Asutralian Kangaroos squad.

Despite the grand final loss, premiership glory was not far away and would arrive in 1991.

In a repeat of the previous grand final, the Panthers played Canberra. This time, Penrith won 19-12, with Royce Simmons famously b=playing the role of hero with two crucial tries.

The years from 1992 until 1996 were disappointing ones for the Penrith club. Injuries, internal dramas and a number of prominent departures to other clubs served to bring the Panthers back to earth in a big way.

Among the departures were star players Greg Alexander and Mark Geyer as well as coach and current general manager Phil Gould.

Despite all this the Panthers bounced back in 1997, winning all six of their matches in the Super League World Club Challenge series - played both in the UK and Australia.

They also made the Super League semi-finals by finishing fifth in the competition.

In a tense semi-final Penrith defeated Canterbury15-14 at Belmore to advance to the elimination final against Canberra at Bruce Stadium where they were knocked out 32-12 by their finals nemesis.




That year, Ryan Girdler, Greg Alexander, Matt Adamson and Craig Gower all represented NSW in the Tri-Series, which was Suer League's version of State of Origin football.

Girdler, Adamson and Gower also represented Australia against New Zealand and Great Britain.

The Panthers would build on that success in 2000 when they finished fifth on the NRL ladder, making the semi-finals in a unified competition for the first time since 1991 and scoring an equal club record of six wins in a row.

Penrith's Harold Matthews side reached its grand final and the SG Ball team won their championship.

Unfortunately 2001 would see Penrith's inconsitency rear it's head again as the club recorded it's worst season and collected the first wooden spoon in Panthers history.

As a result major changes were made to the administrative, coaching and training staff.

Shane Richardson was appointed CEO at the end of the season, while John Lang from the Sharks took over as head coach.

2002 was a better year and changes at the end of the season placed the club in a good position to move ahead.

A lot of hard work followed and season 2003 saw the club reap the rewards.

After a slow start to the season - losing three of their first four matches - the Panthers began to fire.

After a bye in Round five, they went on to set a new club record of eight wins in a row and suddenly the media began to take notice. Was something happening at the foot of the mountains?

It certainly was - and by Round 14 there was talk that the side were 'genuine contenders'.

In all, the Panthers won 21 of their 27 matches in the competition proper and the finals series.

They broke the home ground record three times along the way to winning both the minor premiership and J.J Giltinan shield and the NRL Premiership, defeating the Sydney Roosters 18-6 in a grand final that some experts rated as probably the best ever.

Luke Priddis won the Clive Churchill Medal and Craig Gower proved himself to be the form player of the competition.

Penrith then went onto England for the World Club Challenge but were beaten by Bradford.

It was always going to be difficult for the Panthers to defend their premiership, but - despite injuries and a large number of players backing up from representative football - the Panthers came within one game of the Grand Final.

They finished third overall and in addition, the St Marys-Penrith Cougars and the Penrith Jersey Flegg sides finished fourth in their respective competitions. Penrith's SG Ball came third and the Harold Matthews side finished second.

It was also a successful season on the spectator front: Penrith was the most watched team on free-to-air television in 2004 and for 2003 and 2004 combined had an average home crowd second only to the powerhouse that is the Brisbane Broncos.

Players who were picked for rep football during the year - whether for City-Country, Origin, Australia or New Zealand - included Craig Gower, Luke Rooney, Trent Waterhouse, Joel Clinton, Tony Puletua, Joe Galuvao, Paul Whatuira, Frank Pritchard, Luke Lewis, Shane Rodney, Amos Roberts, Luke Priddis, Rhys Wesser and Ben Ross.

At the end of the season, Penrith lost two iconic players with the retirements of Ryan Girdler and Martin Lang.

Girdler's achievements on retirement included: Most points for the club (1,572 from 204 games); most tries for the club (101 - shared with Greg Alexander); and most points in a season (229).

Midway through the season, Michael Leary was called upon to fill in as acting CEO at short notice. Later in the year, Glenn Matthews took over as CEO and Michael was named General Manager, Rugby League.

The Panthers had a slow start to the 2005 season, partly as a result of injuries to key players such as Craig Gower and Tony Puletua.

At one stage, the side looked headed for the wooden spoon yet, a couple of weeks later, just missed out on a place in the final eight.

Off the field, work began on revamping Penrith Stadium, courtesy of $10 million in funding from the Federal Government. And for the first time in its history, the stadium had a naming sponsor - and was known as Credit Union Australia Stadium Penrith.


2006 was not a memorable year for the first grade side, though they finished the season strongly. And in all, 11 players were chosen to play representative football, either in City/Country, State of Origin or for their respective nations.

It was a very good year for the club in general, though, with Penrith's Harold Matthews, SG Ball and Jersey Flegg sides each winning a premiership - the first time in history that one club had won all three in the same year.

The club would also celebrate the 40th anniversary of its entry to the elite grade and announced its 'Team of Legends'.

17 players were chosen from the ranks of all who'd gone before with the selection panel being headed by Roger Cowan, the man who led Panthers as CEO for almost 40 years until his retirement.

The team was: 1. Rhys Wesser, 2. Bob Landers, 3. Grahame Moran, 4. Ryan Girdler, 5. Alan McIndoe, 6. Brad Fittler, 7. Greg Alexander, 8. Terry Geary, 9. Royce Simmons, 10. Tim Sheens, 11. John Cartwright, 12. Bill Ashurst, 13. Colin Van Der Voort, 14. Craig Gower, 15. Brad Izzard, 16. Mark Geyer, 17. Tony Puletua.

The improvements to CUA Stadium and the new Western Grandstand complex won immediate approval from fans and the media alike.




Alas the year also saw coach John Lang's departure after five years with the club. The new coach was Matthew Elliott.




2007 was a mixed year for the club.

It finished with two contrasting 'trophies' - the Wooden Spoon in the NRL and the NSWRL Club Championship pennant, the latter for the first time in its history.

The Club Championship is based on performances in Premier League, Jersey Flegg, SG Ball and Harold Matthews.

The Panthers Ball and Matthews sides each made their respective grand finals, but were unable to prevail again. But the club's Flegg side had an incredible year that culminated in winning the Premiership for the second year in a row.

The NRL side finished last after a scrappy and disappointing season that saw the departure of one of the club's greatest... Craig Gower, who left to play rugby union in France amongst a media storm.

It was the end of an era that began 12 seasons earlier when Gower made his first grade debut for the Panthers.

In the end, he played 238 games for the club and led it to a premiership.

In that time he captained his country, and also played rep football for NSW and City Origin.

2007 was the last year of Premier League as the second tier competition, to be replaced in 2008 by the NYC, a national tournament for Under 20s.

The year also saw Penrith reach an historic agreement with the Windsor Club, which entered a team in Premier League for 2008.

As part of the agreement, any fit Penrith player not required in a given week for either NRL or Under 20s would become available to the Windsor Wolves to play either in Premier League or Jim Beam Cup.