THE Penrith Panthers will be playing in Bathurst until almost 2030 under a new agreement announced on Thursday.
Bathurst Regional Council and the Penrith Panthers have extended their partnership – in which a Panthers National Rugby League game is played once a year in Bathurst – until 2028.
Mayor Graeme Hanger said the new deal follows the success of the original five-year agreement, which is in its fourth year.
“We have built a successful relationship with the Panthers over the course of our current agreement and I look forward to continuing this over the next decade,” he said.
“We are also building on our city’s strong reputation as a destination for major supporting events and council has played a key role in investing in the sporting facilities to ensure they attract premium events such as the NRL.”
Council has funded a number of improvements to Carrington Park since the deal began, including an upgrade to the playing surface and drainage, replacement seating in the grandstand, a new $150,000 LED screen at the ground and upgraded lighting which means the ground can host either day or night matches.
As part of the ongoing arrangement, the Panthers will take part in a series of community engagement activities in the days leading up to the NRL game, including school visits and coaching clinics.
This year’s game will be on June 10 against the Canberra Raiders, who also played the Panthers in Bathurst last year.
The curtain-raiser match will be Bathurst Panthers taking on Orange Hawks.
Penrith Panthers chairman Dave O’Neill said the long-term partnership delivers significant benefits to the Panthers, the people of Bathurst and the game of rugby league.
“Panthers has developed a strong and productive relationship with Bathurst Regional Council and their local community,” Mr O’Neill said.
“We are passionate about supporting grassroots rugby league and in return the people of the Bathurst region have truly embraced our club.
“Each year our players and staff are blown away by the support they receive as they undertake school visits and coaching clinics across the region.”
Panthers executive general manager of rugby league Phil Gould reiterated that the relationship between the Penrith Panthers and Bathurst Regional Council was about much more than just an annual NRL fixture.
“We are delighted to now enter into this agreement to continue the association for another 10 seasons,” Mr Gould said.
“Our coaching and development staff have been outstanding in providing junior league coaching clinics and Panthers coaching programs to the Bathurst area.
“Kids and parents have come from miles around to take advantage of these clinics.
“It's our intention to improve and expand these Panthers Academy programs over the next decade.”
The Penrith Panthers played the Cronulla Sharks in the first year of the Bathurst deal in late July, the Gold Coast Titans in mid-March in the second year (which drew the smallest crowd of the deal so far of just over 6000 people) and the Raiders in late April in the third year in 2016.
The return to a winter fixture this year has raised some eyebrows given the weather in June in the Central Tablelands.
Council has never revealed the cost of bringing the Penrith Panthers to Bathurst each year, but it is believed to be around $250,000 per match.