In 2012, news broke that the Wests Brisbane Panthers senior rugby league football club would be winding down operations after 97 years.
Club administrators and former greats of the club had worked tirelessly behind the scenes to secure the club’s future, but it wasn’t to be.
Wests were a foundation club; that took out the first ever premiership of the newly-formed Brisbane Rugby League Competition in 1922.
From that victory then, the club went on to develop and produce some of the game’s greatest players. Through the values of hard work, loyalty, honesty and mateship, the Western Corridor of Brisbane became a beacon of pride, of family and of success.
The ghosts of giants are ever-present throughout the club’s history. Their legacy and folklore ubiquitous. With such a long and entrenched history in the game, many argued the club should never have been allowed to fold.
But in the dynamic landscape of modern sport, with an increasingly competitive and globalised marketplace, the harsh realities are not always favourable. In the Animal Kingdom, over time with change, some species die, some evolve and new ones emerge. The same is true in sport.
History however, has an uncanny way of repeating itself sometimes.
In 2014, the QRL formally announced the disbandment of the FOGs A Grade competition and the introduction of a 10 team Brisbane A Grade competition. Senior rugby league in Brisbane was born, again.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the new A Grade competition and the West Brisbane Panthers were reawakened, albeit a reincarnation of their previous existence.
The A Grade competition has a new format and the West Brisbane Panthers (WBP) is a new entity, with a new model.
The Panthers though, still needed a coach. Enter Wayne Weekes.
Identified early by the club’s board as the man to lead the football team in 2015, the sturdily built coach brings a hard edge to the new club.
“I was approached by the board to take on the role of head coach at the new club and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
Faced with the proposition of starting from scratch, in an area with a strong but chequered rugby league history and no squad to start with, you would forgive the coach for knocking back the offer.
That he did not.
“I enjoy the challenge,” Weekes said. “I much prefer to coach a football side that you have to work with rather than having a top starting side straight away.
“Knowing that it was a traditional rugby league area (West Brisbane), I was actually very excited about being involved.”
Born and bred in the Maitland area outside of Newcastle, having played for more than 32 years as a hard running, uncompromising and tough back rower, Weekes has learned a thing or two about the game.
Despite that, his coaching career began by accident as he recalls.
“I was asked to take on an Under 15s side when I was 21 while I was still playing and I reluctantly took it on, so it all started from there.”
But don’t let that fool you. While his introduction into coaching may have been by accident, his coaching philosophies and approach is very direct.
“On other occasions I can come across a bit abrupt because for me it tends to be a lot of business and a lot of hard work to make sure it’s (coaching) right and I expect it to be right at all times.”
But it’s not all business out the front with this coach, as the hard man reveals there is room for a party out the back.
“I think a lot of it is when it’s business first and I do what I do but when I’m at home, I’m quite relaxed. I enjoy social time, enjoy being with people.”
Now some 20 years on from ‘accidentally’ starting his coaching career, the aspirations the coach harbours for his players, is for them to develop as people not just footballers.
“Obviously we’d like to see them (players) progress in the game and go to higher levels, if we can possibly get them to move that far but we want them to enjoy their rugby league and become better people at the same time.”
“We’re big on making sure they’re part of a strong culture and creating an environment where they enjoy playing rugby league.”
“Seeing them (players) move on in life is always a pleasure of coaching.”
In the new Rugby League Brisbane A Grade competition, many other coaches, players and volunteers will now have the same opportunity to develop as well.
“It’s a very positive step for the QRL to take this on board and a positive step for the game in the Brisbane area,” says Weekes.
“There’s a genuine pathway with us, for players to go to higher levels in rugby league. As part of our program, we’re trying to build the Western Corridor, which has fallen away over the last couple of years.”
The club’s inaugural competition fixture this Saturday against the Jets will be an historic moment and the culmination of a lot of hard work.
“It’s been a very positive experience with some very hard working board members that have done a very good job thus far and I think will continue to do so,” Weekes said.
“It’ll be a very competitive competition and I think after we get past the first year, it’ll be even more competitive and there’ll be a lot more profile.”
A verse from the club song sums it up best, perhaps.
‘So come on and sing, come on and sing the Panthers are fighting for their cause.’
A call to arms that summons the deepest and most heartfelt emotions and passion for any old and new West Panthers supporter.
***The West Brisbane Panthers play their first home game on Saturday, April 18 at Kev McKell Oval with 3.15pm kick off.
Enjoy a two-hour game day drink and food package available for just $50. Get your friends together for a great afternoon at the footy. Visit the club’s website or contact Club Secretary on 0418 394 963 for more information.