Panthers have 11 off-contract players and rivals are ready to pounce
They are victims of their own success. The minor premiers and form side of the NRL have 11 off-contract players and rival clubs are preparing to throw big bucks.
Dean Ritchie, Michael Carayannis , News Corp Australia Sports Newsroom
October 8, 2020 9:34pm
In 23 days, the hottest collection of NRL talent comes onto the open market, which threatens to split up Penrith’s brilliant young side.
And the Panther piranhas are already circling.
High-flying Penrith are bracing for rival clubs to throw big bucks at their playing roster as they fall victim to their own success.
The flying Panthers have 11 of the hottest young stars in the game off contract. Picture: Getty Images.
Canberra look to have already struck the first blow, with the Raiders set to land fullback Caleb Aekins, 22, to a multi-year contract from next season.
While utility Tyrone May is believed to be close to extending his expiring deal, the Panthers have 11 stars with a combined price tag of $5 million coming off contract at the end of next season.
That means rival clubs will, under NRL rules, be free to sign Matt Burton, Kurt Capewell, Stephen Crichton, Mitch Kenny, Jack Hetherington, Brent Naden, Zane Tetevano, Jarome Luai, Spencer Leniu, Isaah Yeo and Josh Mansour from November 1 this year.
Should Penrith go on to win the grand final on October 25, the players may not even have a week to celebrate before being targeted by cashed-up NRL clubs.
While focused on winning this year’s premiership, Panthers officials are aware rival clubs are building war chests to lure the young stars away from the foot of the mountains.
There is no suggestion there will be a mass walkout but the appeal of the Panthers’ playing group — which has already secured a preliminary final spot — is undeniable.
Successful clubs being poached by rivals is, as one official claimed, the “perils of winning and having a salary cap.”
They’ve won the minor premiershjp and now face the challenge of keeping a nearly undefeated team together. Picture: Getty Images.
Many players coming off contract are preferring to defer negotiations until after their season concludes, which, based on Penrith’s form, would be the NRL grand final.
“Negotiations are well under way with a number of those players,” Panthers great and club deputy chairman Greg Alexander said. “You could say we have at least 20 players that are playing the best football of their careers.
“Some are only young in terms of their careers but every individual at Penrith is in good form. And that generally means that there are plenty of clubs interested in a lot of the players.
“I’m sure they have enjoyed this season and also know that the future of the club looks pretty good. We are working through a number of those players as we speak.”
Many have come through the Penrith junior systems together and have expressed a desire to continue playing together.
Isaah Yeo has been one of the most improved players in the comp for 2020. Picture: Getty Images.
That, however, will be difficult when the NRL’s reduced salary cap for 2021 is negotiated.
Penrith have been attempting to re-sign rookie centre Crichton for the past eight weeks.
Friends say the 20-year-old, who could command around $500,000 a season, may wait until after November to gauge interest from other clubs.
Luai, Naden and Yeo will also command decent money if allowed to enter the open market.
The Panthers received a boost this week when rising winger Charlie Staines, 20, rejected interest from Canterbury to extend his deal until the end of 2023.
The Panthers will have some room to move in their salary cap through skipper James Tamou’s departure to the Wests Tigers.
OFF CONTRACT 2020
OFF CONTRACT 2021 (November 1)