NRL hopefuls to stake their claims in Bathurst

By SAM DEBENHAM

IN addition to the Bathurst 12 Hour race to be conducted on the same
weekend, the local sporting community will have another reason to be out and
about on February 8 as Carrington Park plays host to the Penrith Panthers
and the Wests Tigers in an NRL trial match.

It is understood at this stage that neither side will be playing an
NRL-strength line-up, and a more likely scenario is that both clubs will
take the opportunity to play mostly fringe top-graders who may come into
selection discussions at some point in the 2013 season.

"It started with [Bathurst Panthers premier league coach and Panthers
licensed club official] John Fearnley who spoke with Penrith about having
some footballing involvement in the local area through schools and coaching
clinics as well as the possibility of Penrith coaches coming up and sharing
some knowledge with Group 10 clubs," Bathurst Panthers Football Club
president Dennis Comerford explained.

"We were looking for a club-to-club promotional aspect with Penrith, given
that we're the only team around here with an afilliation to an NRL team.

"Originally John had organised for Penrith's first graders to come up and do
some work and from there they said 'well why don't we bring up a second-tier
side and play a trial match?'

"It was going to be against a Group 10 side but these guys are full-time
footballers who have been training for months, most of the Group 10 players
haven't started training yet so that mightn't have been a great idea. Peter
Clarke from Western Rugby League helped organise for the Tigers to send a
side up and it also fell into line with an NRL directive for clubs to have
more community involvement across Country NSW."

While plans for a sportsmen's dinner and other ideas have been shelved for
the time being because of the clash with the 12 Hour and the associated
accomodation shortage, the Penrith first grade squad will still make the
trip and conduct various clinics and activities on the Thursday and Friday
leading up to the game.

Bathurst has not hosted an NRL trial since the infamous visit in 2005 from
the Newcastle Knights who took on Penrith at Carrington Park, though the
Panthers did use Bathurst as a training base for a camp a few years ago.

Top-level football made an appearance at the venue in 2011 with the annual
Aboriginal Knockout but that aside, it has been a long time between drinks
for lovers of elite rugby league.

"Everyone knows that Carrington Park is one of the best venues around the
west, probably only behind the new ground at Mudgee and it will be nice to
be able to show what we have to offer to two NRL clubs," Comerford said.

"I don't know what players will make up the teams but I'd say both teams
will be similar in that there will be a sprinking of players with first
grade experience and certainly plenty of players who will be vying for a
first grade spot at some point this season.

"Both clubs have sides or affiliate sides in the NSW Cup which is a high
standard. If someone like Harry Siejka were still playing with Penrith, he'd
be the sort of player you could expect to see at the game."

The trial will be preceeded by a match between the Western Academy side and
the Far West academy outfit at 5pm with the main event to follow at 6.30pm.
Gates will open at 4pm with tickets - $10 each or $5 for concession pass
holders - available from the Panthers club in Bathurst.




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