Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent
Under-rated Penrith prop Jeremy Latimore is set to be the main beneficiary of Tim Grant's shock departure from the club to Redfern next season, after entering into negotiations with the club in recent weeks.
Grant's impending exit has released some salary cap pressure at the foot of the mountains, paving the way for the Panthers to pick up unwanted Wests Tigers Ben Murdoch-Masila last week.
But club officials are keen to tie up the 27-year-old Latimore, who is the only front-rower in the squad to be used by coach Ivan Cleary in every game so far this season.
"In the past, I haven't had a lot of luck at off-contract time, so I'm just trying to play by best footy week in, week out," Latimore told NRL.com.
"Obviously I'd like to stay here. I really like the club, all the boys here, all the staff... it's a club on the way forward. So hopefully I can sort something out and stay here and be a part of that."
While the loss of Grant will be a blow, an opportunity now opens for Latimore, who recently became a dad for the first time to son Orlando.
"It creates opportunity when players move on. So hopefully I can get a chance to step into that breach. Obviously I know I'm not a player of Tim Grant's ability so I'll just do my best," he said.
Ironically, the former Warrior was on the outside looking in at the start of the season, until an injury to Grant forced Cleary to call on Latimore.
"I played in reserve grade the last trial and it was unfortunate Tim got an injury, but it was fortunate for me," he said.
"I got a go Round 1 and I've been lucky since; I've had a good run with injuries and form and just want to maintain that as we go on. Ivan's been really good to me."
Latimore began his career with Parramatta in 2009 before spending the next two seasons under Cleary in New Zealand. The Port Macquarie product then moved to St George Illawarra for one year before joining Penrith on a two-year deal last season.
Reuniting with Cleary, Latimore said, has been key to his impressive start to 2014.
"I played two years at the Warriors with him and then last year I had an injury, a disrupted start. He just keeps things simple for me," he said.
"Even [assistant coach] Dave Fairleigh, he's been there ever since I played NRL. He was at Parramatta when I was there. I just feel confident with the processes within the structure here, it really helps me.
"In previous years, I've played a couple of good games and I'd have a down week but I just make sure I take each game the same and that's working for me at the moment. I've had a little boy too, so he makes life a bit simpler. He helps me. This year I've felt like I've been really consistent. I've timed it well hopefully."