Penrith cut from Shute Shield

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Penrith Emus have been cut from the Shute Shield,effective immediately.

Sydney Rugby Union (SRU)  made the call on Monday morning to axe the Emus, after 27 years in the premier grade competition, after what it desrcibed as an 'exhaustive process'.

At the start of the season it was reported that the Emus had been given a warning to meet certain criteria or be cut from the competition and the organising bodies deemed they had fallen short.

They began their season with defeats of 62-7, 97-0, 43-10 and 87-5, pinning them to the bottom of the ladder, while some back office issues only heightened speculation their time at the top level was over, before Monday's meeting.

Gordon and Penrith players share a huddle after their round three match. Photo: Andrew QuinnPenrith believed they had met the criteria set down by the SRU and president Jim Hook said the decision was one that would have implications far beyond their immediate club, describing the decision as 'agenda-driven' and ill thought-out.

"This is not based on fact, ti’s based on fiction and agenda-driven processes, (I'm) absolutely disgusted," he said.

"It is clear there are other things going on in the background.

"In some respects (it was a surprise), but we've been under constant pressure from the day we walked in the door, we met with conditions but some we mustn’t be aware of.

"To make a decision not just about Penrith about the development of rugby in Western Sydney and about the wonderful, aspirational footballers, that want to represent their district.

"It seems incredulous you would take a club out of the competition that is for grassroots and the development of rugby in an area like Greater Western Sydney, that will soon have close to two million people."

Hook said a change in the board late last year had set their progress back going into 2018, leaving the club up against the clock to rally sponsors and create a vision for 2018, but it appears any improvement in that space all came too late.

All teams will receive five points for their Penrith fixture, with a 28-0 scoreline to be recorded for the match, including those teams that have already played.

Sydney Rugby Union chairman David Begg said the Emus had failed to 'meet the standards set for all clubs to compete at the premiership level'.

Julian Huxley will coach the Rays in 2017. Photo: Getty Images“The Sydney Rugby Union board has taken comprehensive steps to provide every available opportunity for Penrith Rugby Union Club to remain in the Sydney Premiership competition,” he said.

“However, the club’s inability to meet the standards set for all clubs to compete at the Premiership level has resulted in them being withdrawn from the competition.

“The long standing issues around governance, safety and wellbeing of players, financial viability, qualified coaching and support personnel has forced the board to withdraw the club."

Begg said the organisation would try and ensure any players found a new rugby home.

“We are working closely with New South Wales Rugby Union (NSWRU) to support the individual players impacted by this, to ensure they have other avenues available to them to remain in rugby."

“The SRU Board are eager to work with NSWRU to ensure that the greater Western Sydney area can continue to grow rugby and have the opportunity to be part of the Sydney Premiership level competition in the future."

NSW Rugby Union supported the decision to axe the Emus, who have struggled in the Shute Shield, but officials stressed they weren't turning their back on Western Sydney.

The Emus have had large turnover at the club, both at a coaching and playing level, in recent years, with former Wallabies Jeremy Paul and Julian Huxley the latest to exit the club.

NSW Rugby and Waratahs CEO Andrew Hore was all smiles at the launch. Photo: NSW Waratahs MediaPenrith has lost all its matches in the 2018 Shute Shield, and has won just one game in the past four years, never making the Shute Shield final

It's unclear how the Shute Shield will look in 2019, but there is a view that another Western Sydney side may be considered to join the competition down the track.

Parramatta and West Harbour are the other teams based in the west, but they are far from local for Penrith players who will be looking for a new rugby home.

The club posted a reassuring message to its players as late as Monday morning, assuring them of a continued presence in Sydney rugby.

NSW Rugby Union CEO Andrew Hore said the organisation would be looking at alternative ways to grow rugby in the region.

The greater Western Sydney area is of importance for NSWRU and we have already commenced work to look at strategic partnerships and strategies that will allow us to grow rugby in the area," he said.

"The Western Sydney action plan that will look at reinvigorating schools competition, providing additional support to clubs, additional human resources for the region and much more.

Hoos said he was yet to speak to any of the players, but the board would meet on Monday night to decide how to proceed.

A switch into Subbies rugby seems unlikely, meaning the Penrith club as it exists is all but over.