NRL chief executive David Smith recently told the faithful in Brisbane that their supporters are the heartland of the game.
Yes, it’s true rugby league in Queensland over the past decade has become an important stronghold of the game.
Crowds at club games for the Broncos and at State of Origin clashes in Brisbane have put Sydneysiders to shame in recent times.
While I can understand where Smith was coming from with his remarks as they were made to maintain the league profile in Queensland, in my eyes, western Sydney is the heartland of the game.
Many have found it strange the Wests Tigers, Parramatta and Penrith, three clubs with big following in Sydney’s western suburbs, have gone well so far this season and are entrenched in the top eight.
They are playing good, tough and enterprising footy.
It’s early days yet, but history shows if you make a good start to a season you are a great chance of staying in the top eight.
For the sake of the game this season and in the next decade, we need Wests Tigers, Parramatta and Penrith to be in finals reckoning.
All three clubs have had lean times in recent seasons.
The Eels haven’t made the top eight since reaching the 2009 grand final against Melbourne.
The Tigers made the preliminary final in 2010 and Penrith last made the finals in 2010. Neither of these clubs have qualified for the finals since.
The junior leagues of these areas have always been strong.
Soccer also has big playing numbers in local associations in these areas and the advent of the Western Sydney Wanderers has certainly challenged for their hearts and minds.
When the Tigers, Eels and Panthers have good seasons there is a positive vibe in these league heartlands.
In recent years with these teams out of the finals their crowds have dipped.
When the Tigers won the NRL grand final in 2005, it was a big shot in the arm for the code.
When the Panthers won the title in 2003 their district was buzzing.
When the Eels were dominant in the 1980s winning four titles, the last one in 1986, the legion of Parramatta supporters were as big as Napoleon’s army.
I believe these clubs’ successes can only stimulate player registration numbers in the respective junior leagues of Western Suburbs, Parramatta and Penrith.
While I am a Dragons supporter, I truly hope the Tigers, Eels and Panthers make the top eight this season.
It will be an immeasurable boost to the game, their clubs’ coffers and keep the younger supporters attached.
League’s heartland is on our doorstep and the Tigers, Eels and Panthers are the pulse.