The Panthers have a cap squeeze set to cause significant headaches for the club, but a shrewd signing could ease the mountain men’s salary woes.
The premiers have signed Tigers backrower Luke Garner, who reportedly took a pay cut on his $375,000 contract — according to The Daily Telegraph.
The 26-year-old will fill the hole left by fan-favourite Viliame Kikau, who would have commanded upwards of $800,000 to remain at the club.
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The Panthers have previosuly taken players from rival clubs who have not fulfilled their potential and turned them into stars.
Scott Sorensen was a fringe player for the Sharks before finding form under Ivan Cleary and becoming an integral squad member.
Broncos recruit Kurt Capewell is another edge forward the Panthers recruited, blossoming under the tutelage of Ivan Cleary before moving the Queensland.
Kikau will depart for the Bulldogs, and the cash left over from his current reportedly $700,000-a-year deal can be used to retain a number of key stars off contract.
Emerging guns Spencer Leniu and Izack Tago, established stars Stephen Crichton and Brian To’o are free to negotiate with rival clubs come November 1 for the 2024 season.
Meanwhile, Matt Eisenhuth, J’maine Hopgood, Robert Jennings, Eddie Blacker, Christian Crichton, Kurt Falls, Taylan May, Lindsay Smith, Jaeman Salmon and Chris Smith are all off contract at the end of this season.
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To’o, Crichton, Tago, Leniu and May will be targets for rival clubs, but the Panthers will be desperate to keep their homegrown premiership-winning stars.
But with around $450,000 cap space freed up after Kikau’s departure and Garner’s signing, they just might be able to pull it off.
Crichton and To’o were reportedly willing to take below their market value to stay with eammates they came through the junior ranks with like Nathan Cleary and Dylan Edwards.
Young gun prop Spencer Leniu opened up the club’s salary cap, revealing he wants to remain in a Panthers jersey.
“I was born in New Zealand but have been living in the area since I came from NZ. This is home for me. I can’t really see myself anywhere else but like I said when the time comes to cross that bridge, I’ll cross it,” Leniu said to The Daily Telegraph.
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“I honestly can’t see myself in other colours but if I had to go then it is what it is.
“I love this club. This is kind of the first time I have heard reports about me going anywhere. I have another year next year and whatever happens I’m just focused on doing my best for the team, whatever happens after that, happens after that.
“I’ll cross that bridge when it comes, I have a full now and next year so my mind is focused my best footy for this team.”
The Panthers have already re-signed key players James Fisher-Harris, Moses Leota, Jarome Luai, Isaah Yeo, Dylan Edwards and Nathan Cleary.
Now the club must figure out a way to lock down the supporting cast. before rivals swoop.
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