On his way to this interview at Penrith’s new Marcel restaurant inside the Western Sydney Conference Centre, Panthers Chairman Peter Graham – who lives at The Royce – glances at the stadium where he saw his first Penrith game in 1967 on his right, and to the Leagues Club housing a three-peat of NRL trophies on his left.
There is a spring in his step, too, as there is for most who work around this joint these days.
But on this day in particular, Graham and his Board have just received a significant vote of confidence – with no nominations from new candidates for what would have been an election early next year. Instead, the current Board will remain in place for the next two years – allowing the club to move towards implementing its 10-year plan for the Mulgoa Road site.
Refusing to rest on the laurels of its success, Panthers will instead push forward with a growth plan focused on football, community, the environment and property.
“The Board is going through a process to take any opportunities that come up but also identify any roadblocks and issues that are likely to be problematic for us,” he said.
“One of the benefits we’ve got from this period of stability is that you haven’t got to spend time fighting fires. You can look at the significant strategic opportunities that we’ve got. That’s the Board and we’ve got a great balance on the Board now.”
Last year, Graham along with senior members from across the Panthers Group came together to identify the club’s path to 2032 and how the organisation would look in a decade’s time.
“We came up with eight areas of aspiration and we’re still working through those,” he said.
“For every aspiration what we wanted to have was a very clear statement of what we aspire to and a proof point for each one of them.”
Among the aspirations was the football team’s blueprint for success –under-pinned by coach Ivan Cleary’s mission to reach the top four each year.
“He’s not promising nor can anyone promise a Premiership every year, although he’s done pretty well,” Graham said.
“He wants the football team to be a source of pride for the people of Penrith. Ivan looks at things like how many jerseys are around the place, what kind of stories are we getting, are we in the press for the right reasons or the wrong reasons.
“It’s not just football – he’s so concerned about us being in the community for all the right reasons. We also want to be the Premier team when it comes to preparing our players for life after football.”
Away from football, Panthers is currently mid-way through a ‘placemaking review’ aimed at ensuring it makes the most of the massive 60 hectare site on Mulgoa Road.
“We’re looking at what the four or five things we could do are that would make a significant difference to the way in which this whole area is used by our community,” he said.
“We’re about half-way through that. The second step of that process is understanding the opportunities we’ve got coming out of this review, and how should that influence the Masterplan for the whole area?
“Once we’ve got that clear, what are the priorities that come out of that which we can then do business cases for and go to the market for?”
Graham is also keen to implement a plan around Peachtree Creek, which runs through the Panthers site. The Board believes it could play a significant role in the club’s plans around property and the environment.
“The biggest issue in Penrith is heat, and the things that will compensate for heat are water and greenery,” he said.
“The creek that runs through here has got this great opportunity for us. You could put in some weirs on the creek that would retain the water and you could attract bird life and the affect it has on local trees and grass is just amazing. We’d be looking at doing that with Council and the Government. We want to green this area and make so much better use of it.”
Graham points to Penrith’s efforts in the community and expansion of programs like Panthers on the Prowl in the coming years as a way the club will continue to invest in the city.
“The Board recently voted to double our commitment to the Prowl,” he said.
“The form that’s taking is that we want to double each of our programs. So instead of one primary school program, there will be two. Instead of two busses we will have four busses, and double the staff effectively.
“In terms of what we are doing for the community we think that’s something of substance and it’s proven.”
One of the biggest challenge the club faces in the years ahead is a reduction in poker machine revenue – a potential death knell for some clubs, but an opportunity for Penrith.
The club has already reduced its reliance on gaming revenue to around 40 per cent and expects that will continue to come down over the next decade.
“Part of our responsibility as a Board is to look at those things… we’ve been actioning that for some time,” he said.
“That’s an important issue for us. We’ve been thinking about that and planning for it for some time. This is a business issue and it’s a social issue, so we want to respond to both of those. We think the way to do that is to increase revenue from other sources.
“We’re working towards an outcome where the reliance on gaming is not much at all. It’s not in the long term interests of the club to be focused on that.”
Now enjoying an era of success unrivalled by anything in its past, Panthers and its current Board has a unique opportunity to position the organisation in the right direction for decades to come – a chance they appear to be taking with both hands.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.