Panthers offer Maroons Origin home away from home
Queensland, beautiful one day … Penrith the next.
After years spent preparing for State of Origin at venues like XXXX Island and Clive Palmer's Coolum Resort, the 2020 Maroons are now being invited to bunk down next door to, or close enough, NSW favourite Mark Geyer.
As part of a statewide push to have Sydney host all three Origin games this year, the Panthers Leagues Club Group has agreed to transform its hyped western Sydney facilities into Camp Maroon for all the series.
Relive classic NRL matches from the 60s to today on KAYO SPORTS. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
Speaking with The Daily Telegraph on Thursday, Panthers CEO Brian Fletcher confirmed his interest in hosting the Bananabenders, saying his organisation would do "whatever it takes" to make their complex feel like anything but enemy territory.
The move follows a joint push by both the NSW Government and NSWRL to host all three games of this year's series after Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk ruled out Brisbane as a venue for the duration of the COVID-19 health crisis.
Should the Penrith push be approved, Maroons coach Kevin Walters and his team would have access to a large complex which includes the revered Panthers Academy, which boasts two gyms, medical facilities and plunge pools.
Adjacent to that is the 200-room Mercure hotel, plus four training fields.
Wonderfully for the Maroons, all facilities are also within walking distance to aqua golf, Cables Wake Park, hell even the Hooters restaurant may have reopened.
So throw in a few kegs of XXXX and what isn't for them to love?
Already, NSWRL chief executive David Trodden has confirmed his interest in hosting all three Origin games in Sydney this year, with Bankwest Stadium the early venue favourite if the code remains in lockdown.
Walters has also confirmed his willingness to play the series out of enemy territory if required, with Panthers HQ now available should the QRL want to start making preparations.
"We'd love to have Queensland here," Fletcher said. "And whatever is required, we can do it.
"We've made them (NRL) aware of the facilities that are available … so they know we'd do anything to support the return of both rugby league and State of Origin football."
Only last week, the Panthers Group put a proposal to the NRL innovation committee about using their facilities as a potential bubble for Queensland teams should they need to be housed here.
Trodden is a fan of transferring that idea to Origin, with Deputy Premier John Barilaro also a heavyweight backer of the Sydney proposal.
Meanwhile, Fletcher suggested he also remained confident of the game resuming on May 28, despite the currently delays being caused by host broadcaster Channel 9.
"I'm confident we'll start on May 28," he said. "That's still a long way off and every indication with the virus is that we're getting less numbers every day which is great.
"So fingers crossed. It's all going in our favour for a safe return. I'm confident the NRL will get through all the roadblocks and make the date they're working towards."
CAPEWELL WELCOMES 'HOME' ORIGIN
Penrith recruit Kurt Capewell would prefer to see Origin in the Sunshine State but for now he's happy if the Maroons are based in his new backyard at the foot of the mountains, writes Matt Logue.
The Panthers' world-class training facilities have emerged as the frontrunner to host the Queenslanders during the Sydney-based 2020 Origin series with the state borders closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It's not an ideal situation for Kevin Walters' men, but Capewell isn't complaining as a Panthers player who trains in Sydney's west every day.
"It would be awesome - I only live five minutes up the road from Penrith's facility," declared Capewell, who is in the Maroons' squad after being called up as a shadow player during last year's series.
"Obviously, it would be ideal to get back up to Queensland, the great state, and be around our supporters.
"I also really look forward to our training camp in Queensland, but I couldn't think of a better facility to use if we have to than Penrith.
"I don't think there would be too many places better to base yourself out of to train.
"The facility itself is one of the best in the competition - it's top-notch.
"The fields are also in perfect condition, so it is a good place to train from if we can't go to Queensland."
Ironically, Capewell is currently locked down in Queensland during the NRL competition shutdown.
He decided to spend his time in isolation back home in Charleville, where he is keeping busy training and helping a friend with his cattle.
"I've been back in God's country - it is outstanding," he said.
"I've been doing a bit of work on a mate's property just out of town.
"We processed a couple of calf's the other day and he has just sent off his steers.
"It is a good life out here.
"I was also lucky that Penrith loaned me some weights, so I've been training every day."
Capewell may be enjoying the downtime during the NRL's hiatus, but he concedes he is struggling without the daily routine of football.
"I can't wait for footy to return," said Capewell, who played 65 NRL games for Cronulla before joining Penrith this season.
"I've missed it so much. We've got a great training program, but you can't beat the contact and having your teammates around every day."
Originally published as Panthers offer Maroons Origin home away from home