Panthers legend and former Great Britain international Bill Ashurst is still a massive Penrith man at heart but admits, apart from the lucrative dollars, he wouldn’t want to play the game of rugby league today.
The now 69-year-old made a name for himself at Penrith in the mid 1970s following a decorated six-year career in Wigan.
While he only spent a relatively short amount of time at the Panthers, Ashurst won plenty of fans and is still regarded as one of the greatest English players to ever lace on a boot in Australia.
While Ashurst’s time at the foot of Mountains was cut short in 1977 after he walked out of the club in mysterious circumstances, he still remains a big fan.
Speaking exclusively with the Weekender in Penrith this week, Ashurst admitted while the club has changed remarkably over the years, his affection for the Panthers certainly hasn’t.
“Everything looks different but, at the end of the day, the Panthers are still the Panthers and I’ve always been a Panther and I always will be,” he said.
“I always say there are only two teams in my life – the Wigan Warriors and Penrith.”
During his four-week trip back to Australia, Ashurst managed to witness in the flesh two Penrith victories over the Bulldogs and Warriors as well as go on a private tour of Panthers Rugby League Academy.
“Brad Waugh took me around the Academy and I couldn’t believe what I saw, it was unbelievable,” Ashurst said.
“I remember our old sheds, buying our own boots and making our own way to the ground. Heck, I even smoked when I played, even at half-time!
“To be honest, I wouldn’t like the lifestyle the players have these days – there’s too much pressure and far too many mobile phones.”
Panthers Hall of Famer Grahame Moran once described Ashurst as the “most complete footballer”, as skilful as Andrew Johns. But the former centre/backrower and goal kicking sharpshooter admits he isn’t a fan of how the game is played today.
“It’s a different game to when we played… I don’t like the modern game,” Ashurst said.
“It’s all based on defence now, I was brought up on attack and scoring more points than your opposition. I wouldn’t have liked to have played now except for the money, of course,” he joked.
In 2006, Ashurst received one of the greatest honours of his career when he was one of 17 players named in Penrith’s Team of Legends – an incredible achievement for a rangy Englishman who played just 46 games in Penrith colours.
These days Ashurst enjoys his time in the north of England, cheering on Penrith’s legends of the future, watching every game on TV.
Tyrone Peachey and Matt Moylan are two of his favourite players.
Nathan Taylor is the Western Weekender’s award-winning sports journalist. Nathan is also the Weekender’s Deputy Editor.