Panthers are kings of the kids in Canterbury
The Warriors are likely to enjoy majority crowd support this Saturday evening at AMI Stadium, but the Penrith Panthers may have convinced a few hundred Canterbury kids to change their NRL allegiances this week.
After holding an open training session at Christchurch Boys High School yesterday, the Panthers visited Hornby club later that afternoon and evening.
Notorious Christchurch traffic meant they were a bit late and cut the skills session short, but the team was welcomed by a rousing haka in the clubrooms at Leslie Park before the Panthers players mixed with 200-plus kids and signed autographs.
The rugby league roadshow continued around the city today, with NSW Origin forward Trent Merrin, Kiwi internationals Peta Hiku and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, and rookie backrower James Fisher-Harris visiting South New Brighton School and Rawhiti School to deliver the NRL’s programme promoting wellbeing, healthy lifestyle and positive behaviour.
The primary school students just about lifted the roof off as the Penrith quartet arrived, before eagerly taking in the players’ messages about the importance of a balanced diet, getting lots of sleep and mental health.
A media session and another barrage of autograph requests followed each visit in a day sure to be remembered for a long time by the South New Brighton School and Rawhiti School pupils – and the Panthers stars.
“It’s a great feeling, I can imagine what the kids are going through,” Hiku said.
“When I was younger, I was always wanting to meet an NRL player, or even a rugby union player.
“It’s been a good buzz. It’s my first time here actually. I’m enjoying the company and the town, and everyone’s been nice around here so it’s been good.”
Merrin was equally taken aback by the rapturous welcome the Panthers had received across the city less than 48 hours into their stay.
“It’s been awesome. It’s always good to get down to these areas that don’t get to see professional footballers, especially rugby league – rugby (union) is obviously the dominant sport here,” Merrin said.
“Just to see the reception the fans and the kids have given us is very humbling, and it’s the reason why we’re here.”
The Panthers visited Rawhiti School this afternoon to deliver the same programme, talk to the kids and give out tickets to Saturday’s Round 10 clash with the Warriors at AMI Stadium.
Check out Canterbury Rugby League’s Facebook page for galleries of the Penrith Panthers’ club and school visits around Christchurch this week.
WILL EVANS – CANTERBURY RUGBY LEAGUE
Photo Credit: Kevin Clarke – CMGSPORT ACTION IMAGES