Even though half a century has passed, original Penrith Panthers Neil Bailey and Tom Wilson still have fond memories of playing with the club in its very first year.
After years of tireless work lead by local rugby league legend Merv Cartwright, the Penrith Panthers were finally admitted into the NSWRL first grade competition in 1967.
This year marks 50 seasons since the famous Penrith jumper became part of the rugby league landscape.
One player who represented Penrith in 1967 was 69-year-old auto electrician Neil Bailey.
Bailey began his first grade playing career with the Panthers as a fullback and fondly remembers the excitement of the city in that very first year.
“The community was very much behind the team. The Lord Mayor, everybody threw their weight behind us,” he recalls.
“We had fantastic crowds back then too – 12,000 people would quite often come to our games.”
Teammate Tom Wilson, who signed with the Panthers from North Sydney, remembers Penrith Stadium as a bare, grass paddock.
“There were two dressing sheds, a few seats on top and no cover,” the 72-year-old said.
“The ground was completely flat. It wasn’t even turf, it was grass, and there were no hills or anything like that.”
The Panthers won five games in their inaugural season but one victory that stands out like it just happened yesterday was the day Penrith beat St George.
“We beat St George during our first season, which was an unbelievable game,” Bailey said.
“It was probably the demise of Reg Gasnier because he injured himself out there and it ended up being his last game.
“To beat St George, who were virtually unbeatable prior to that, was amazing.”
The Panthers will honour surviving members of the original 1967 team when they take on the Canterbury Bulldogs tonight at Pepper Stadium. They’ll also wear a commemorative jersey.
“It’ll be a special moment seeing the boys run out in that jumper,” Wilson said.
“I still support the club to this day and will always be a Penrith Panther.”
Nathan Taylor is the Western Weekender’s award-winning sports journalist. Nathan is also the Weekender’s Deputy Editor.