RUGBY league great Cameron Smith is expected to play in Bathurst next year, as Penrith Panthers bring its home match to Carrington Park to play Melbourne Storm in 2019.
Smith is regarded as one of the finest players to have played the game, having played close to 500 games all up for Storm, Queensland and Australia.
Footy fans in Bathurst will now be thinking they’re being spoiled by the NRL, with two legends of the game gracing the Carrington turf in consecutive years.
In May this year, Queensland great Johnathan Thurston featured in North Queensland Cowboys 26-20 win over Panthers.
It’s also set to be a homecoming of sorts for Storm coach Craig Bellamy, who grew up in Portland and played for Oberon Tigers as a teenager in Group 10 Rugby League.
NRL game development officer Dave Elvy, who played 17 games for Penrith between 1998 and 1999, said it’s massive to have a team like Storm in Bathurst.
“Having any game of NRL in Bathurst is just massive for the town, especially as it’s a competition one and getting Melbourne Storm, who have been the most successful side in the past decade,” he said.
“We were fortunate to get Johnathan Thurston last year, so it’s been a big couple of years. I think Cameron Smith will attract a big crowd.
“There’s a lot of young kids who support Storm at the schools I go and visit, I suppose because of their success. It’ll be great to have the Storm floating around town.”
The game between Panthers and Storm has been locked in for Saturday, March 30, for a 7.35pm kick-off, in the third round of the 2019 season.
It’s also an earlier game than last year’s May 4 match, but Elvy is not concerned that an earlier game will affect the crowd.
“I actually think it’s a good time. I think when they start getting late, close to winter, you roll it into a bit of unpredictable weather,” he said.
“Having it in March, it’ll be pretty nice weather.
“I think the crowd will come to watch what will be a pretty quality game, because Penrith are becoming stronger and stronger each year.”
While the match should be quality, Elvy did praise the work Panthers do off the field in the local Bathurst area and beyond in the Central West.
“The work they do out here, I think they’re the only NRL club that puts the time and effort into a country region,” he said.
“We’ve got another 10 years left in the deal, so it’s only going to get bigger and better. I think we should get down there and support the work we do.”
Bathurst Panthers are planning, at this stage, to play in a curtain raiser before the NRL kick-off.
However, the opposition is yet to be determined.
Also, West Tigers will play Gold Coast Titans in Tamworth on April 27 and St George Illawarra will play Newcastle Knights at Mudgee on May 19.
These matches are the only other two games that will be played in regional areas that don’t regularly host NRL matches.
Tickets will go on sale for the Bathurst match in mid-December.