Penrith compared to Scottish football heavyweights Dundee United with local ADVANTAGE that is the envy of the NRL ahead of grand final against Western Sydney rivals Parramatta
- The Penrith Panthers will contest their third consecutive NRL grand final
- They will also look to become just second club in the NRL era to go back-to-back
- Their success can be attributed to a locals only policy made famous by Scottish football giants Dundee United, with 29 of the 33 Panthers living in the area
Call it the Dundee United approach, but it is perhaps one of the most underrated and significant differences that separates Penrith from almost every other NRL club.
Of the Panthers’ 33 players used this year, a staggering 29 still live in the Penrith region.
Only Jaeman Salmon, Matt Eisenhuth and Scott Sorensen car-pool from the Shire each day while Api Koroisau still lives on the northern beaches.
It’s the kind of numbers Sydney clubs envy, and a throwback to the first 52 years of the NSWRL when residency rules were in place.
It’s what makes Penrith players bleed for their club during three years of dominance and a shot at back-to-back titles when they meet neighbours and fierce rivals Parramatta in Sunday’s grand final.
‘I’ve always said when I put that jersey on I’m playing for my hometown,’ five-eighth Jarome Luai said.
‘That’s like a lot of these guys. It can’t mean much more than that.
‘You’re representing your family, who you are and how you grew up and (where) you come from.’
Penrith’s local feel models another success story overseas.
Dundee United famously employed an eight-mile rule during manager Jim McLean’s reign in 1980, ordering players to live within that radius of the Scottish city.
Never regarded as a heavyweight, the club won their only top-league title under the hard-line manager and also reached their only UEFA Cup final in 1987.
Players listed the policy as a reason for their success, noting they grew closer, were happier to hang around training for longer and got a feel for the city’s population of around 140,000.
The Panthers did not have the same mandate, but few players opted to move out of the region they either grew up in or moved to as teenagers.
‘That’s why we talk (about playing for the region) so much,’ Luai said.
‘It’s not a cliche. It’s because it’s as black-and-white as it can get. This is where we’re from and our home. It’s the team I’ve always loved.’
Club insiders also believe it has other tangible effects.
They claim players will take less money to continue staying in the region they have long lived in and represented, while playing with teammates they have known since their teenage years.
Likewise, fans also feel an affinity with the team.
Since Penrith’s run began in 2020, almost all home games were played in front of capacity crowds with the Panthers stringing together an imposing 25-2 record at BlueBet Stadium.
‘It definitely gives you a good sense of community,’ fullback Dylan Edwards said.
‘Especially for the boys that live in Mt Druitt.
‘You get the sense of pride that the community has in the football team and that we’ve got to keep producing performances that makes them proud.’