Our say | Just having the big league should be enough

BATHURST Regional Council is happy with the deal, the Penrith Panthers are happy with the deal and the National Rugby League (presumably) is happy with the deal.

So why have the people of Bathurst still not fully embraced the annual NRL game played by the Panthers at Carrington Park?

The news this week that the Panthers had extended their deal with Bathurst Regional Council to play a match at Carrington once a season to 2028 should have been great news for this city.

Yet many of those commenting on the Western Advocate Facebook page focused on the minutia: why are the Panthers playing the Canberra Raiders in Bathurst in 2017 after playing the same side here in 2016? Why have sides like the Tigers or Roosters not yet been part of the Bathurst fixture?

Rather than being pleased that Bathurst has got an annual NRL game at all – and there would have to be plenty of other regional cities that would like to have that opportunity – they want to know why it can’t be an NRL fixture that they’d prefer.

Some might say that is just the negativity of social media, but the crowds for the Panthers’ local games for the past two years indicate this attitude might not be confined to an unhappy few on Facebook.

The crowds of just over 6000 for the Gold Coast Titans match in 2015 and close to 7000 for the Raiders match last year were, to be frank, disappointing.

In a city of over 40,000, with Orange, Lithgow and Mudgee to draw upon, it has been surprising that Bathurst has not been able to match the crowd figure of close to 9000 people for the first game of the deal against the Cronulla Sharks.

Those same people who were commenting on social media will say the lower crowds are a product of less popular teams, but is that missing the point?

If Bathurst is going to have top-level sport come to town – whether it is league, union or soccer – it is not going to get to order the particular teams it would prefer to see play.

The Panthers have taken a risk (albeit with financial support from council) in coming to Bathurst, giving up a home game advantage at Penrith, asking their western suburbs fans to travel over the Blue Mountains and not knowing what sort of images they will provide to the all-important television broadcasters.

The district rugby league fans’ gift to reward that risk-taking should be their annual presence.