BATHURST’S annual NRL fixture will return to the early part of the season after three years of dates deeper in the competition.
The Penrith Panthers will play at Carrington Park at 7.30pm in round three on Saturday, March 30 next year, the club confirmed on Friday, though it is not yet known who the side’s opponents will be.
The opponents will be revealed next week as part of the official release of the 2019 NRL draw.
A record crowd of more than 10,000 watched Johnathan Thurston’s North Queensland Cowboys defeat the Panthers 26-20 in early May this year.
It was the fifth game in the Panthers’ long-term deal to play a match at Bathurst each year, which was extended in 2017 until at least 2028.
Playing another March game could yet prove a gamble for the Panthers, who drew the smallest crowd – around 6000 – of their Bathurst games when they played the Gold Coast Titans at Carrington Park in March 2015.
MEMBER for Bathurst Paul Toole said the NSW Government is providing $200,000 to bring NRL matches to four regional centres in 2019, including Bathurst.
“Major sporting events play an important role in driving overnight visitation. I am delighted our city will have the opportunity to showcase not only our capability for hosting large events, but to also show visitors what an incredible destination Bathurst is,” Mr Toole said.
“This match will help put more heads on hotel beds, diners in our restaurants and shoppers in our stores, providing a significant boost to our local economy.”
He said 58 per cent of tickets sold for this year’s match between the Panthers and North Queensland Cowboys were from outside the 2795 postcode.
“And with the match being televised on the Friday night, more than 1.8 million viewers tuned in to watch, which again showcased Bathurst to the nation,” he said.
PANTHERS Group CEO Brian Fletcher said the club was proud of the strong relationship it had built with Bathurst Regional Council and the community.
"The support we receive when the team takes the field at Carrington Park is outstanding and we can't wait to bring the NRL back to Bathurst in 2019,” he said in a statement.
"However, it is important to note our long-term commitment to Bathurst is about much more than simply playing an annual NRL fixture.
"Our club is passionate about working with Country Rugby League to support the growth of the game in Central West NSW.
"Through the Panthers Regional Academy Program, our club provides junior league coaching clinics and Panthers coaching programs in support of the Western Rams representative teams.
"This year Panthers also took the historic step of entering teams in the Southern Conference of the 2018 Country Championships.
"It is our intention to improve and expand these programs and initiatives over the years ahead."