NRL Rd 9 - Sharks v Panthers
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 11: Liam Martin of the Panthers waves to the crowd after the Panthers won the round nine NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Penrith Panthers at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on July 11, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

If you drive through Richmond, NSW, go down Bells Line Road and over Mount Victoria, you’ll shoot out at the edge of Lithgow and into the Central West, the key behind Penrith’s recent success.

Penrith have laid roots in the region over the past few seasons, setting up development systems in rural New South Wales in a bid to claim some of the area’s best rising stars.

The Panthers have taken one home game per season to Carrington Park in Bathurst since 2014, a week that sees the town thrive each and every year.

Five members of the Panthers’ 2020 squad hails from the region, with a further two coming from even further west NSW to play for the table topping side.

Billy Burns is a Parkes Spacemen, while Isaah Yeo and Matt Burton are Dubbo products, Brent Naden a former Wellington Cowboy, and recent four-try debutant Charlie Staines is from Forbes.

Both Liam Martin (Temora) and Dylan Edwards (Albury) both hail from even further west/south New South Wales, with a spatter of other clubs picking up talent from the region.

Jack Wighton, Kotoni Staggs, Will Kennedy, Josh Jackson, Connor Watson, Joel Thompson and Blake Ferguson were all born and/or played their junior footy in the Central West as did former Panthers Briaidon Burns, Wayde Egan and Tyrone Peachey.

And there’s more coming through as well at the foot of the mountains as well as other clubs, like Perth Nines star and Dragons’ rookie fullback Cody Ramsey, who hails from a little town called Molong about half an hour off Orange.

The area is bustling with talent, which also sees a host of former NRL players returning to the region to play in the Group 10 and 11 competition post-NRL career.

Names like Josh Starling, George Rose, Daniel Mortimer and most recently Jason Bukuya highlight a list of blokes adding star power to the comp in the past few years.

While Penrith itself is known as one of rugby league’s best nurseries, the inclusion of the Central West within their junior system strengthens the Panthers’ core, with 16 members of Penrith’s 17 that took on the Titans a fortnight ago making their NRL debut at the club.

Penrith enters a side in the CRL Under 16’s (Andrew Johns Cup) and Under 18’s (Laurie Daley Cup) comp each season, playing against sides like the Western Rams and the Riverina Bulls, giving the Penrith coaching staff a clear look at the stars of those teams, and henceforth their regions.

The relationship between the area and the club has certainly strengthened in recent years, with the Panthers donating $200,000 to a central west drought appeal in 2018.

Even last weekend, in their 42-6 drubbing of Manly at Lottoland, four of their seven tries were scored by products of the Forbes, Dubbo and Wellington areas.

As the club sits on top of the ladder, there’s no doubt their Central West talent has had a major factor in their 2020 surge, the region is certain to be a breeding ground of future Panthers for years to come.