A premiership winning club in 1991 and 2003, the Panthers have the largest junior Rugby League base in the world and are the team League Freak supports in the National Rugby League.
During previous years the club had played in Blue and White however with Cronulla already taking a light blue and white into the Premiership and the Bulldogs also playing in Blue and White, the club changed their colours to brown and white.
After being a successful club in the lower grades Penrith found he going tough at the top level and it wasn’t until 1985 that the club made its first finals series.
With the club producing young stars such as Greg Alexander, Mark Geyer, Steve Carter, Brad Izzard, Royce Simmonds and John Cartwright during early to mid 80’s the fortunes of the Panthers started to turn around.
It culminated in back to back Grand Final appearances in 1990 and 1991 against the Canberra Raiders.
In 1990, the side led by Phil Gould openly admitted to being just happy to have made the Grand Final. There was a parade through the centre of Penrith in the week leading up to the game and going in with that attitude against the battle hardened Green Machine from Canberra led to a 18-14 loss and disappointment for the Chocolate Soldiers.
They say you have to lose a Grand Final to win one though, and with a new look (The club changes from Brown and White colours to Black and White) the club knew what was needed to get back to the big game and the attitude needed to win it.
In a fantastic game the Panthers sent retiring hooker Royce Simmonds out a winner with a 19-12 win over the Raiders. The game was punctuated by a brilliant try against the run of play to Simmonds.
The euphoria of the win was incredible in the Penrith area, but sadly, it was short lived.
Young Penrith star and brother of captain Greg Alexander was killed in a car crash in 1992. It shocked the community and the game in general and tore the heart and soul out of the club and the Penrith region.
The shocking events in 1992, coupled with the impending Super League War saw the club struggle and eventually lose a number of key people from the club.
Greg Alexander and Mark Geyer moved on for personal reasons while Brad Fittler, Matt Sing and coach Phil Gould left the club to join the Sydney Roosters having aligned with the Australian Rugby League.
With new coach Royce Simmonds taking over and the club once again relying on a batch of young local juniors, the club was thrown into the middle of the Super League War and chose to sign with Super League, a move that alienated many of the clubs supporters.
Penrith made the Super League finals series led by young players like Ryan Girdler, Craig Gower and veteran Steve Carter. However when the game reformed and Australian Rugby League and Super League joined to form the National Rugby League, Penrith were one of the clubs on the chopping block as the game looked for a 14 team, streamlined competition.
There was talk of a merger with Parramatta (With Parramatta basically taking over but taking the Panthers logo) but the club chose to stand alone.
It was a very close call and at the end of the day it was between the Panthers and the North Sydney Bears. The Bears had decided to relocate to Gosford the year before but in 1998 rain help up construction of the Bears new stadium forcing the Bears to play most of their games on the road.
That, coupled with a big pay roll, poor crowds and a poor sponsorship agreement saw North Sydney go bankrupt and Penrith claimed their place in the 14 team National Rugby League competition). When asked how the Panthers scrapped into the elite competition one Penrith official famously stated “Because it rained in Gosford”.
Penrith struggled for consistency in the NRL competition but with the worlds biggest junior Rugby League base to draw upon the club continued to turn out top class youngsters such as Brad Drew, Tony Puletua, Frank Puletua, Robbie Beckett and Chris Hicks the club did manage to show promise at times.
Still 2001 the club suffered one of its worst season ever finishing last on the ladder, claiming the wooden spoon, and parting ways with coach and favorite Penrith son Royce Simmonds.
John Lang took over in 2002 and with the signing of players like Martin Lang, Luke Priddis and eventually Preston Campbell the club started a very fast track to the top. These players coupled with youngsters such as Luke Lewis, Luke Rooney, Joel Clinton and Trent Waterhouse saw the club on the very of a very special season.
The 2003 season is generally regarded by most as the best season of Rugby League in living memory, however Penrith started the season miserably. After a terrible loss to the Melbourne storm it seemed the club had hit rock bottom, but a gutsy win the following week against the defending premiers the Sydney Roosters was a turning point.
The club when on an amazing run and played some exciting football in the process. They went on to claim the Minor Premiership and two tough wins in the finals against the Brisbane Broncos and New Zealand Warriors.
The Grand Final of 2003 is regarded as the best Grand Final of all time. The Panthers vs the Roosters was a classic match up.
The silvertails from the Eastern Suburbs, the defending premiers, the defensive power house that intimidated teams off the part. They were led by Brad Fittler, the Penrith junior they had stolen from the Panthers almost a decade earlier and were coached by Rickey Stuart, the halfback that has played in the two Grand Finals in the early 90’s Penrith had been a part of.
Then you had the Panthers from Sydney’s west. The people team made up of a couple of fan favorites, a bunch of young kids, a coach that was told he couldn’t win a Grand Final and facing an oppponent they didnt fear.
It was an amazing game, one of the best you will ever see.
Led by an amazing game by hooker Luke Priddis, the Panthers went on to claim a famous Grand Final victory.
2004 saw Penrith stiffen up their sometimes laxed defensive line and the move saw the club once again among the title contenders. The club made their way to via a belting of the much fancied and over confident St George/Illawarra side, but in the Semi Finals were beaten by the eventual premiers, the Canterbury Bulldogs.
2005 saw the club struggling once again as the club missed the finals and 2006 was even worse.
For the 2007 season the club decided to give a million dollar contract to former Bradford and Canberra coach Matthew Elliott. Elliott’s arrival raised the hopes of some fans, but their hopes were soon crushed as Penrith started the season of terribly.
Rumors of unrest within the club circulated and assistant coach Matt Adamson publicly come out and threatened to hunt down any players that disagreed with his views. Adamson, one of Elliott’s best mates, would later make a failed comeback attempt with the club.
The 2007 season ended with a wooden spoon, with the club firmly planted at the bottom of the NRL ladder as the worst club in the competition.
Over the next few years the Panthers seemed to lurch from one crisis to another. The high point was a second place finish on the Premiership ladder in 2010 (On the back of a very prosperous time during the State Of Origin series) but the club went out of the finals in back to back losses in what you could only describe as poor displays.
It all come to a head in 2011 when Phil Gould was installed as the general manager of the club and after a review of the clubs operations went about making changes that had been needed for a long time.
The clubs CEO “stood down” while coach Matthew Elliott was fired. A number of players were not re-signed including captain Petero Civoneceva and Trent Waterhouse.
Ivan Cleary was signed as the clubs coach from what was initially expected to be the 2013 season. However Cleary was able to gain an early release from his New Zealand Warriors contract, allowing him to take over at Penrith in 2012. He then went on to take the Warriors to the 2011 Grand Final.
Local junior Luke Lewis was named club captain for the 2012 season.
While the season started off with some promise drama seemed to be the theme of the 2012 season. After the clubs was reprimanded by the NRL in regards to sponsorship deals, the team then dropped Michael Jennings to reserve grade just before he appeared in the State Of Origin series.
Luke Lewis was stripped of the captaincy going into the State Of Origin series and soon after would announce he was leaving the club to join the Sharks.
Located at Mulgoa Rd and right across the road from Panthers League club (And perhaps more importantly, McDonald’s and Kirspy Kreme!) Penrith Football Stadium is a typical suburban Rugby League ground.
With a grass hill at the northern and Southern end, the playing surface is flanked by two Grand Stands.
Panthers Rugby League Links
The Official Site Of The Penrith Panthers – http://www.Panthers.com
Queensland Panthers Supporters Club – http://www.QLDPanthers.com/
Panthers Weekly With Strawbs and Teach – https://www.facebook.com/panthersweekly
Panther Pride Forums – http://www.pantherpride.com.au/
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