24 September 2021

Is it time to welcome Penrith into the Canberra rugby community?

| Tim Gavel
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Rugby union players in John I Dent Cup game in Canberra

Is Canberra’s John I Dent Cup rugby union competition a possible home for the Penrith Emus? Photo: John I Dent Cup.

The Penrith Emus and Canberra rugby union teams have much in common, including being kicked out of the Sydney first-grade competition.

Penrith has been told it won’t be part of the revamped Shute Shield just three years after being invited back into the competition.

To suggest it has resulted in anger in the Penrith rugby community would be a massive understatement.

Proposals to link up with Parramatta have been met with brick wall defence from many people in the Emus ranks.

The question is where to now for thousands of aspiring rugby players in the Penrith region.

There has been plenty of talk in the Canberra rugby community during the past fortnight about the Emus possibly playing in the John I Dent Cup.

For this to happen, the Emus would need to be in a position to field four teams: firsts, seconds, colts and a women’s side.

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Another option could be an alignment with Eastern Suburbs Rugby Union Football Club in Canberra, given Easts hasn’t been in a position to field a first-grade team for the past couple of seasons.

There are many similarities in the way Penrith has been treated by Sydney clubs and the treatment dished out to the Canberra Vikings.

For the Vikings, it happened following the 2000 season in which the club made it through to the semifinals.

Prior to the Brumbies, the Canberra Kookaburras started the ball rolling in 1995 when the club joined the Sydney competition. They played home games at Manuka Oval before the team was rebadged as the Vikings.

The Kookaburras/Vikings had enormous success before being kicked out.

This resulted in the Vikings heading north to play in the Brisbane premiership, where they won the title in the three consecutive years they took part in that competition.

The John I Dent Cup comprises six teams, which would give Sydney and Brisbane a run for their money.

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Already there is an indication of change, with three clubs looking for new first-grade coaches. Adam Butt has returned to Royals after success at Wests, and one of Canberra’s most successful coaches, Wayne Southwell, has retired.

Marco Caputo is also moving on after emerging as one of the region’s top coaches following an impressive stint at Gungahlin.

Further change, such as the inclusion of Penrith, wouldn’t faze Canberra clubs. If anything, it would be embraced.

The concept of teams from outside the Canberra region playing in ACT competitions has been adopted by other sports.

There are teams from Wagga Wagga and Cooma playing in the Capital Football Leagues. Albury and Goulburn teams play in the ACT hockey competitions, and Yass and Goulburn are part of the Canberra Raiders Cup.

Perhaps it is time to look beyond Canberra for the John I Dent Cup, too.

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No offence to Penrith as it is always a great game playing against them but the reason they have been removed from the Sydney comp again is due to them no being able to field the minimum teams, only havjng 1 grade and 1 colts team. Also, they were offered assistance from NSW rugby as west harbour, parramatta and New castle have but turned down the help so hence have been cut.

Agree entirely. If RA and NSWRU were serious about building up grass roots rugby, the Western Suburbs is the perfect place. Perhaps it would be good for Brumbies rugby too. Like GWS have been so good with development of junior talent in ACT, the Brumbies could tap into Sydney’s West and find a larger support base outside ACT.

You’re right about the similarities between the treatment of Kookas/Vikings and Pentrith. Eddies too was kicked out of the Waratah Shield many years ago after they enjoyed too much success against their beloved Sydney elite schools.

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