Located immediately behind the gargantuan Panthers leagues club, the Academy represents a $21 million investment by the club’s board of directors into the game of rugby league in a district frequently referred to as the biggest junior rugby league nursery in the world.

Here, Penrith’s high-performance and sports science staff have the best facilities at their disposal, as does the club’s education and welfare team. The academy’s locker room laps the size and quality of the one over the road at Panthers Stadium, while the site’s lecture theatre is second to none anywhere in the country.

One of the main figures behind the academy’s instalment was Phil “Gus” Gould, who captained the club during its early years, coached it to a premiership in 1991 and since 2011 has filled the role as footy club General Manager. One of Gould’s most important appointments early on was that of Matt Cameron, Penrith’s current High Performance Manager.

(Photo courtesy Penrith Panthers)

Cameron, who very generously took Inside Sport on an hour-long tour of the Academy recently, had worked at the Parramatta Eels for 15 seasons in a coaching capacity, the last seven as an NRL assistant under Brian Smith, Jason Taylor, Michael Hagan, Daniel Anderson and Stephen Kearney.

Cameron arrived at Penrith in 2012. “At that point in time the club clearly had a lot of things that were working for them; great numbers in terms of their 8,500-strong junior league, great staff, but there was a bit of a misalignment in terms of their junior programs and how they aligned to the senior ranks,” Cameron tells Inside Sport.

“So Gus had basically said to me, ‘If I gave you a blank piece of paper, what would you do?’ I went away and came back with a plan. The project paper we had was called Project 2015.
“So that was 2012. It was just looking at what was currently working for the Panthers and how do we pull it all under the one umbrella and get it firing? Essentially, if someone asks what my job is, I tell them it is to create a pathway for players to get from under-13s to first grade … and everywhere in between.
“So I came in. The recruitment manager Jim Jones had been here for a long time and had previously done a lot of that stuff just by himself. As Gus became a little bit more involved, and our corporate side of things improved and there was a little bit more money to work with, we started to grow a program significantly.”
The management at Panthers had a vision for a high-performance training facility … but weren’t sure what it looked like or how big it was. What they did know was that, although the facilities they boasted across Mulgoa Road at the Panthers Stadium were adequate, rugby league was now an arms race, and the Panthers were slowly being taken over by other clubs.
“There’s a massive recruitment and retention upside to investing in an academy like this,” Cameron stresses. “If you have a high-class facility, it becomes a great tool to not only attract external players to the club, but also players we’ve developed; to keep them here.”


(Header image courtesy Penrith Panthers)