THE BIG PICTURE: NRL clubs will pass on bush footy unless people come to games

GREAT DAY, GREAT GAME: Sharks prop Andrew Fifita sizes up the Penrith defence. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

GREAT DAY, GREAT GAME: Sharks prop Andrew Fifita sizes up the Penrith defence. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

CONGRATULATIONS to Bathurst City Council and the city’s rugby league clubs for staging what was a fantastic NRL spectacle between the Penrith Panthers and Cronulla Sharks at Carrington Park on Saturday afternoon.

As an abiding league fan, it was brilliant.

There’s no better way to spend the afternoon than on the hill cheering on your favourite team.

And, with the rain staying away, that’s exactly how 8,824 people spent their Saturday, with the Panthers stunned 18-16 by the Sharks in a thrilling encounter at Bathurst’s premier sporting precinct.

Cracking game. Great concept. Well played all.

But, and they have every right to be, surely organisers are filthy just 8,824 people turned up.

With three games being played - both NSW Cup and Holden Cup fixtures preceded the main game - Carrington Park should have attracted in excess of 10,000 people, which is still well short of what Bathurst council claims is the 13,000-mark the ground boasts as a capacity.

Penrith have invested plenty in signing a five-year deal to bring an NRL game to Bathurst each of the next four seasons after last Saturday’s inaugural game.

The least the public could have done is give a little back and turn up.

Because, whether they know it or not, there’s plenty on the line. Not just for Bathurst.

Probably more so than the Parramatta-Gold Coast game in Mudgee 12 months ago because Bathurst is a much larger centre with a population near 40,000 people.

This game at Carrington Park was a huge NRL-hosting acid test for the major cities in the central west region.

And, I might be being harsh, but we failed.

I’ll find it very surprising if any NRL clubs - outside of Penrith for the next four years of course - will be looking this way in any future ventures to take big games out of metropolitan Sydney.

GALLERY: CRONULLA SHARKS V PENRITH PANTHERS AT CARRINGTON PARK

Simply, if the support isn’t there, then the clubs will look elsewhere.

Don’t think so? 

In 2012 and 2013, the Bulldogs took NRL games to Mackay. 

In their first venture north, Canterbury hosted Melbourne Storm with 11,876 packing out the Virgin Australia Stadium in northern Queensland. Huge success.

The following season the Bulldogs did the same thing, taking their home game against the Newcastle Knights to the same venue.

Just 6,700 fans saw the Knights win 18-12.

In 2014, the Bulldogs stayed home.

Understandably hoping to do better in 2015, Bathurst council is already hinting at a few upgrades to Carrington Park for future games and the timing of the fixture in July, the middle of winter, is also being looked at.

But, seriously, if the people in Bathurst thought it was too cold to go to the footy on Saturday then what hope do we have.

I dearly wish next year’s game is better attended.

In 2008 Orange hosted an NRL trial between the Raiders and Broncos at Wade Park, with a similarly-sized crowd of 8,500 people on hand to witness the city’s first top-flight league in almost 10 years.

There’s little doubt an actual NRL fixture with lower grade games will be a huge hit in Orange.

But if this Penrith deal in Bathurst is a flop attendance-wise in 2015, we could be waiting much longer than a decade for our next taste of top-flight footy in Orange.

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