Tale of two cities shows why Tigers need Campbelltown

Scott Bailey |

Lachlan Galvin (c) is a poster boy for the Macarthur local talent Wests Tigers want to develop.
Lachlan Galvin (c) is a poster boy for the Macarthur local talent Wests Tigers want to develop.

It’s the staggering tale of two NRL teams that shows just how much ground the Wests Tigers know they need to make up in the south-west of Sydney.

One is Penrith, who have utilised their local talent in Sydney’s west to help win three straight premierships.

The other is the Tigers, who acknowledge they must do better in the Macarthur side of their joint-venture club to climb up off the canvas.

“When they won the premiership in 2005, the Tigers had (local) juniors,” says CEO Shane Richardson, who joined the Tigers in December.

“When I won the premiership (as CEO) at Penrith (in 2003) we had eight juniors. When I won a premiership at Souths (in 2014) we had eight juniors. 

“You’ve got to have juniors. And here, we’ve only really had one or two juniors.”

Shane Richardson
Wests Tigers CEO Shane Richardson knows how crucial local junior talent can be to an NRL club. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

As simplistic as the numbers may be, recent history is damning for the Tigers. 

In two areas of similar demographics, there are around 1000 extra registered junior rugby league players across Macarthur’s competitions compared to Penrith’s district.

But that is not reflected at the top level.

The Panthers have had 15 local Penrith district juniors play 10 or more NRL games this decade, as part of their run in four grand finals and three straight premierships.

The Tigers, in contrast, have had two Macarthur products play more than 10 games for them in that time and have collected two wooden spoons on the way.

And the Tigers know it must change.

“We want to have five or six juniors playing every week in the first grade side,” Richardson says.

“That’s why we have development programs. It’s all about giving every kid in our district a chance to play first. 

“We’ll recruit, but at the higher level, not at the lower level.”

The Tigers know this is not simply about talent.

Richardson sees it as a hearts-and-minds approach, with the club desperate to embed themselves in the Macarthur and entice their juniors to play for them.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary often recounts that when he first arrived at Penrith in 2012, there was minimal connection between the Panthers and the city.

Now, almost every child who grows up in Penrith wants to play for the Panthers.

Campbelltown, and the wider Macarthur area, has had similar commitment issues with the Tigers.

The club played as few as three games a year at Campbelltown Stadium in 2019 and 2020, with their presence in the region limited given their Concord base.

Previous administrations implemented different strategies, including asking staff to work out of the Macarthur once a month and telling players not to refer to it as “out there”.

But realistically, it has never felt a perfect marriage.

There has, however, been a shift.

The Tigers opened their first office in Campbelltown on Thursday, and Sunday’s clash with St George Illawarra is the first of five in the city this year under a one-year deal struck by the club’s former administration.

School visits will be doubled by 2025 under Richardson’s regime, with dedicated development, pathways and community staff to be based in the Campbelltown office.

The club will decide their long-term stadium strategy in coming months as the Leichhardt situation evolves, but a move to Liverpool is now off the cards.

“It’s very clear-cut we’re where we’re going and what we’re heading towards,” Richardson says.

“But we’ve got no intentions of building any stadiums at Liverpool or anything like that.

“You can’t go and say: ‘Well, we’re Wests Tigers, you should be supporting us’. 

“You have to say: ‘We’re buying into your community, that’s why you should support us’.”

That, the Tigers believe, can help them turn a budding nursery into the kind of success clubs like Penrith enjoy.

The green shoots are there already.

Rookie Lachlan Galvin has starred this year, after he Tallyn Da Silva and Kit Laulilii were part of an under-17s Harold Matthews premiership-winning side in 2022.

Kit Laulilii
Lachlan Galvin and fellow local junior product Kit Laulilii (r) at Wests Tigers training (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

Heath Mason and 17-year-old Luke Laulilii are seen as the next players in line from the region.

This year’s Harold Matthews team have gone undefeated through the regular season, while the under-16s Andrew Johns Cup side reached that final.

“This is the first crop of kids in a long time that we had that we held on to,” Shannon Gallant, who has headed up development in the region for the past four years, says.

Challenges remain.

The Western Suburbs junior teams train out of the renowned St Gregory’s College at Campbelltown, which remains a pathway for the Tigers.

But the rise of Westfields Sports High as a lure for teenagers has long pushed talent to Parramatta.

The retention of Westfields boys Da Silva, Laulilii and Galvin has slowly begun to reverse the cycle, while Eagle Vale High in Campbelltown will become a sports school next year.

Tallyn Da Silva
Tallyn Da Silva (l) is another local product working to make his mark for the Tigers. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

“When you got guys like them playing for the club, people from the local area start to identify it as their club,” Gallant said.

“At the end of the day, we believe you get more out when they have got more buy-in and pride in a jersey they’ve represented for the last five or 10 years.

“You always hear about the Penrith guys talk about the area. 

“We’ve got to have pride in our area, and a bigger footprint is going to going to show that we’ve got pride in the area and those players coming through.”

As for the next wave of Macarthur talent, the youngsters themselves believe their nursery has the potential of Penrith’s.

“One hundred per cent I reckon we can get to that stage,” Galvin said.

“There’s so much out here … Kids aspire to play for the West Tigers, and if they see us actually making it they’ll see they can do it too.

“Winning the three grand finals is obviously a goal for us too. We’d love to do that. 

“We’ve got the juniors and the development to bring all those juniors through and really go well in the next couple of years.”