Following the Penrith Panthers’ remarkable third Grand Final victory, we had the privilege of speaking to Lee Hopkins, the club’s Head of Courses.
Following the thrilling victory over the Brisbane Broncos in the NRL Grand Final, Hopkins shared his views on the future of the game and the challenges of developing and retaining young talent in a league where clubs Rivals are constantly poaching rising stars.
Hopkins, who has a long history with the Panthers, spoke about his time with the club.
After playing for the Panthers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he returned as coach in 2010 before taking on his current role as course manager.
The Penrith Panthers Pathways program is vital to identifying and developing talent within the club.
Hopkins explained that the idea of ”building from within” was a strategy developed a decade ago by Panthers high-performance manager Matt Cameron and recruiting manager Jim Jones.
All development teams are considered part of this program.
When asked about the club’s success in nurturing local talent, he highlighted the Panthers’ ability to execute this strategy while believing in their ability to develop players who can take the club to the highest levels.
The Penrith region boasts a large pool of young talent from a vast geographical region stretching from Blacktown to Katoomba, Badgery’s Creek and the rest of Hawkesbury.
The Panthers Junior League is the largest Rugby League district in the world with over 580 teams in all age groups from 4 years.
Over the last 10 years the club has grown significantly with almost 9,000 players in both the men’s and women’s competitions.
Hopkins recognized the immense size of the region the Junior League must manage and the challenges it presents in scouting and developing top young players.
However, the Panthers increasingly find themselves facing a new challenge.
Hopkins pointed out that they are increasingly becoming a target for other clubs looking to poach their promising youngsters.
The club’s success in nurturing talent has put a target on it, with rival teams looking to lure their future stars.
“We now appear to be a target for every other NRL club looking to sign our boys.
This is a constant struggle for us right now.
We are constantly fighting other clubs trying to sign our best guys,” Hopkins said.