BY CURTIS WOODWARD
The Penrith Panthers and South Sydney Rabbitohs have never really had much to blue about. An afterthought in Sydney’s heaving rugby league landscape. That is all set to change in the next couple of decades and the game’s next great rivalry begins tonight – in Brisbane of all places.
In a 2nd versus 3rd battle this evening, it is hard to see either club wilting any time soon.
They will clash again in the finals.
It may not come in 2021 with the Melbourne Storm flying so high but a grand final showdown between the Panthers and Souths isn’t far off.
When it does happen, we won’t be talking Redfern versus ‘The ‘Riff’.
It would come as no surprise that most Rabbitohs supporters have moved out of the inner-city.
Over 10,000 Souths members already live in Sydney’s West and have identified the Campbelltown and Camden LGA’s as their most vital targets in the coming years as part of their South West engagement strategy. The Rabbitohs have been extremely active in what has been known historically as a Wests Tigers region.
The Rabbitohs have dedicated staff and resources in the Macarthur area – a key for future “membership and supporter growth”.
In a bold move last year, Souths announced a partnership with new A-League soccer club Macarthur FC.
“In short, almost 500,000 people will be available over the next 15 years as new members,” Rabbitohs Chief Commercial Officer Shannon Donato told the81stminute.com.
“A mere 2% take-up rate would deliver 10,000 new members, let alone current population yet to be targeted.”
The Camden LGA population alone is set to triple in the next decade.
“It is recognised that Camden is traditionally Wests Tigers territory; however every fan is available and should be competed for,” Donato added.
“The AFL and FFA will not hesitate to target new fans in any area, so competition for new NRL fans must be aggressive.”
Camden to Penrith is barely a 40 minute drive up the Northern Road.
Despite Penrith bordering Camden, Liverpool and Campbelltown, the Panthers versus Wests Tigers rivalry has never taken off.
As time goes on and Penrith and Souths expand their catchments, potential new Wests Tigers fans in the region will be lost and the winners will be the Panthers and the Rabbitohs.
South Sydney will never change their name like Canterbury did.
In fact, the Bulldogs did it twice.
In the mid 1990s, Canterbury changed their name to the ‘Sydney Bulldogs’.
A few years later they dropped ‘Sydney’ and were known as just the ‘Bulldogs’ for a while.
The ‘South Sydney Rabbitohs’ will always be one of Australia’s strongest sporting brands.
But they are aware of their future and the migration is well underway.
All the while, the Panthers go from strength to strength.
The West is rugby league’s battleground and it’s set to be dominated by tonight’s heavyweights.