Bathurst to host NRL pre season match

IN ADDITION to the running of the Bathurst 12 Hour race the local sporting community will have another reason to be out in force on February 8 as Carrington Park plays host to the Penrith Panthers and the Wests Tigers in an NRL trial match.

It is understood at this stage that neither side will be playing an NRL-strength line-up, and a more likely scenario is that both clubs will take the opportunity to play mostly fringe top-graders who may come into selection discussions at some point in the 2013 season.

"It started with [Bathurst Panthers premier league coach and Panthers licensed club official] John Fearnley who spoke with Penrith about having some footballing involvement in the local area through schools and coaching clinics as well as the possibility of Penrith coaches coming up and sharing some knowledge with Group 10 clubs," Bathurst Panthers Football Club president Dennis Comerford explained.

"We were looking for a club-to-club promotional aspect with Penrith, given that we're the only team around here with an affiliation to an NRL team.

"Originally John had organised for Penrith's first graders to come up and do some work and from there they said 'well why don't we bring up a second-tier side and play a trial match?'

"It was going to be against a Group 10 side but these guys are full-time footballers who have been training for months, most of the Group 10 players haven't started training yet so that mightn't have been a great idea.

Peter Clarke from Western Rugby League helped organise for the Tigers to send a side up and it also fell into line with an NRL directive for clubs to have more community involvement across Country NSW.

"While plans for a sportsmen's dinner and other ideas have been shelved for the time being because of the clash with the 12 Hour and the associated accommodation shortage, the Penrith first grade squad will still make the trip and conduct various clinics and activities on the Thursday and Friday leading up to the game.

Bathurst has not hosted an NRL trial since the infamous visit in 2005 from the Newcastle Knights who took on Penrith at Carrington Park, though the Panthers did use Bathurst as a training base for a camp a few years ago.

Top-level football made an appearance at the venue in 2011 with the annual Aboriginal Knockout but that aside, it has been a long time between drinks for lovers of elite rugby league.

"Everyone knows that Carrington Park is one of the best venues around the west, probably only behind the new ground at Mudgee and it will be nice to be able to show what we have to offer to two NRL clubs," Comerford said.

"I don't know what players will make up the teams but I'd say both teams will be similar in that there will be a sprinkling of players with first grade experience and certainly plenty of players who will be vying for a first grade spot at some point this season.

"Both clubs have sides or affiliate sides in the NSW Cup which is a high standard.

"If someone like Harry Siejka were still playing with Penrith, he'd be the sort of player you could expect to see at the game."

The trial will be preceded by a match between the Western Academy side and the Far West Academy outfit at 5pm with the main event to follow at 6.30pm.

Gates will open at 4pm with tickets - $10 each or $5 for concession pass holders - available from the Panthers club in Bathurst.