Warringah Rats’ soul brothers the Penrith Emus have been punted from the Shute Shield again. Here local identity Matthew “Duck Man” Austin pleads a case for the club – and the very game – in the massive catchment of far western Sydney.

Here we are – again – dejected by a decision that was taken out of our hands before we even had a chance to plead our case.

The Penrith Emus – again! – have been removed from the premier club rugby competition in Australia, the Shute Shield.

Not even 18 months after re-inclusion.

Not three years since we were first removed early in 2018.

With the onset of the devastating Covid-19 outbreak, SRU Chairman – and Warringah Rugby Club President – Phil Parsons invited Penrith Emus back into the Shute Shield with six weeks to prepare.

The bond between Penrith Emus and Warringah Rats is strong. Here the Emus gather around the Rats and sing a song of tribute for Lachlan Ward. Pic: Karen Watson.

The hard work began immediately. The club appointed the Wallabies defensive coach from the 1999 World Rugby Cup, John Muggleton. Muggo had returned from professional rugby in Japan and assembled a squad of players the area could be proud of and resonate with.

There were many reasons to be optimistic.

The Penrith district has had several State-championship winning junior teams over the last eight years including 2021 (U/14 boys and U/16 girls) and 2019 (U/12 and U/15 boys).

The Emus have had their fair share of superstars over the years from Hawkesbury Valley junior rugby.

  • Peter Besseling played for the Emus and Waratahs and had a distinguished rugby career in Japan.
  • Junior Tui Talaia came from Plumpton High School and played Australian Schoolboys and for the Waratahs.
  • Toa Asa played for Penrith and then kicked on in the Shute Shield and professionally in France.
  • Liam Winton played in the ACT Brumbies Academy in 2010 after being selected from the Penrith Emus in 2009. He also played at Sydney Uni and won the Shute Shield.
  • Pete Niumata played Super Rugby for the Queensland Reds
  • Dave Dennis came from Richmond High School, played Colts for Penrith Emus and kicked on to play Shute Shield with Sydney Uni. There were also 106 games for NSW and 18 Test caps for Australia.
Local: Dave Dennis. Pic: Rugby Australia.

The Penrith area’s association with rugby goes back to the Wallabies second ever Test match at Ballymore on 22 July, 1899 versus Great Britain.

It was there that 31-year-old Castlereagh-born Charles Graham represented the Wallabies in his first and only Test at hooker. He will forever hold the honour of being Wallaby No.19.

Another locally-produced player is Kurtley Beale. Young “KB” was trying to make it in rugby league with the Penrith Panthers junior reps. One day he got home from an orientation day at St Dominics in Kingswood to find a man on a motorbike who gave him a pamphlet for St Joseph’s College at Hunters Hill. There followed 92 caps for the Wallabies career, 148 games for NSW and a stellar professional career that’s been going – and is still going in France – fifteen years.

In 2021 the Emus won their first Shute Shield game in seven years against arch-rivals the Western Sydney Two Blues at Holroyd Sports Ground. The club and district was ecstatic. As Penrith Emus President Gary McColl stated afterwards, it felt like we had won the World Cup.

It was a hugely significant win, probably the second-greatest in club history after the 55-21 victory over Randwick at Nepean Rugby Park in 1999. There has been no bigger boil over in rugby history.

Local: Kurtley Beale. How many more are there? And if there’s no rugby club to go to, why play rugby? PIc: Rugby Australia.

Penrith Emus have the backing and support of the local community, which according to Population Australia is 210,137 people as of 2020.

We are a city within a city. We are about to have a new state-of-the-art international airport, the Nancy-Bird Walton airport at Badgery’s Creek, open in 2026.

The population of Greater Western Sydney was 2.5 million in 2020 and estimated to be 3 million in 2036. That’s a lot of people without a rugby team at the highest level in NSW.

It’s ridiculous there isn’t one.

Rugby Australia has an Inclusion Policy which states that the game takes pride in living the following values on and off the field:

  1. Passion – for our game
  2. Integrity – underpinning our actions
  3. Discipline – of purpose
  4. Respect – for the game and each other
  5. Teamwork – uniting us both on and off the field.

Penrith Emus own these five core values. It would be fabulous to see the Emus display them in Sydney’s Premier rugby competition, the Shute Shield again.

Yours in Rugby

Matt Austin – Duck Man