Construction has begun in Penrith on a rugby league academy, which Panthers general manager of football operations Phil Gould has said will become the most visible and recognisable sporting precinct in all of Sydney.
Gould attended the site of the $20 million development, along with Panthers Group CEO Warren Wilson and club director Greg Alexander this morning.
Sports Minister and Penrith MP Stuart Ayres, federal member for Lindsay, Fiona Scott and member for Mulgoa, Tanya Davies were also there with shovels in hand for the ceremonial ‘turning of the sod.'
Located behind the Penrith Panthers leagues club and the Mercure Hotel, the new site will house the clubs’ administration, coaching staff, sports science, medical teams and physio teams.
In addition, there will be two, Pepper Stadium-quality training fields for their first grade and under 20s teams, and a further three or four grounds out the back for community and touch football.
The academy has been on Phil Gould’s wish list since his return to the Panthers in 2011, and he said it was a huge day for the club to see work commence.
‘‘Four years ago, it was nothing more than a dream,’’ he said.
‘‘To see it actually come to reality, I think it’s going to be a wonderful facility for the future of Penrith and for the future of rugby league in this area,’’ he added.
Mr Gould said the academy was one of the first things they identified when he took on his position and there were a number of key reasons behind it.
‘‘Number one, that a professional football program needs to be seen to be having the best of facilities and the best opportunities for players.
‘‘To be a source of inspiration for young fellers in the area, that they want to come and play for this club, not only here, but over the mountains there in western NSW, we get a lot of kids from there coming to Penrith as well.
‘‘For rugby league to be represented in the biggest junior league in the world, in the proper manner, and also for the Panthers profile here in Penrith.
‘‘If it ever came to pass that stadia strategy said we can’t play here in Penrith any more, we wanted to make sure our base was always here and people always recognise us as being a part of Penrith.’’
The centre is expected to be up and running by June 2016 and will be followed by the construction of a new Western Sydney Sports and Community Centre.
‘‘Certainly in the next three or four years, this is going to look like a completely different precinct and it’ll be the most visible and recognisable sporting precinct in all of Sydney,’’ Mr Gould said.
Minister for Sport and Penrith MP Stuart Ayres said it is a fantastic initiative for the area.
‘‘This is really going to become a Mecca for people who want to participate in good community activity, enhance their footballing prowess and the capabilities of this fantastic community club,’’ Mr Ayres said.
‘‘This is a significant financial investment from this club back into its own performance, but more importantly a significant financial investment back into the strong Penrith community that has been so crucial to the long-term success of this club.’’