By 1907, the defection of players from Rugby Union to Rugby League and the increasing popularity of Rugby League among Australians interested in football, began to gather momentum. The first documented account of a game being played in the Penrith area was reported to have been in April, 1912, when a “trial ‘football match’ took place between Glenbrook Rovers and a combined Penrith and Emu team on the Penrith Showground.”
By May of that year, the Penrith United Football Club had been formed and was playing in the Parramatta district competition in the Western Districts Junior League. Rugby League had a fairly rocky path however, with frequent name changes, and the formation and disbanding of clubs and associations. Penrith Wests, Penrith Waratahs – a juniors club – the Emu Blues, and the Emu Gravel Company were just some of the names of the teams which played up to the 1930s.
During the 1920s the Penrith Club struggled to keep going. It appears to have disbanded in 1925, only to be re-formed in 1926. In 1927 the Club applied once again to participate in the Western Districts competition. Their application was accepted, but they only had enough players to field one A grade team – the Penrith Waratah Football Club.
The game gradually grew and was not badly affected by the 1930s Depression, indeed people flocked to the games as a diversion from the hardships all around them. Over the 40s and 50s League went from strength to strength, and in the St. Marys area in particular, a strong junior league grew with the growth of the population, due to the establishment of the munitions factory in that area.
The 1960s were a momentous time for Penrith Rugby League, culminating in the acceptance of the Penrith Panthers into the Sydney First Division, for the 1967 competition. The Panthers name had been adopted by the Club in 1964, after a public competition. The winning artist was Deidre Copeland of Emu Plains. With their promotion from second to first division, the Club also changed its colours to brown and white as there were already several others sporting blue and white in the first grade.
Over the years the Club was to have its successes and its failures, but 1990 saw the team make the Grand Final, only to be beaten by Canberra. In 1991, the club colours were again changed, this time to reflect the panther image. Black for the body of the Panther, red and white to signify its eyes, tongue and teeth, and green and gold for Australia. The year was to see the Penrith Panther’s reach the pinnacle, when they defeated the champions of the previous year, the Canberra Raiders, 19-12. After 25 years in the competition at last they were the champions. Grand Final success for the Panthers was repeated in 2003 when the Panthers won both Minor and Major premierships, defeating the Sydney Roosters 18-6 in the Grand Final.
The success of any Club in the major league however, is dependent on a strong junior competition, for it is from these ranks that many of the first and second division players will come. Penrith Panthers has a long history of support for the young players in the district and since the Penrith District Junior Rugby League was formed and entered the Sydney competition in 1966, it has grown into one of the largest in Australia.
From its small beginnings in the early years of the 1900s, the popularity of the sport continues and the Panthers Club is now synonymous with Penrith.
Internet Site: http://www.panthers.com.au/ – History of Panthers
Nepean Times, 27/4/12.Penrith City Council, Penrith Year Book 1987.
Prichard, Greg & Lester, Gary, Bound for Glory, 1992.