Panthers desperate to keep Petero

PENRITH Panthers chief executive Michael Leary insists captain Petero Civoniceva won’t be going anywhere next season, despite the veteran prop today refusing to rule out a return to former club Brisbane.

Leary told NRL.com that he plans to initiate contract negotiations with Civoniceva as early as next week, with the Panthers set to take up an option in their favour for a third year.

But rumours continue to abound that the Queensland and Australian front-rower will return to the Broncos in 2010 and he admitted this morning that such a move was still on the cards.

“We’ll definitely be going home at some stage, my wife and the kids, but exactly when I don’t know,” Civoniceva said.

“I’ll have to see what plans Penrith have and once I know what direction they want to go I’ll have a better answer.

“I’m still yet to sit down with them but I’ll see what direction they want to take and I should have an answer within the next month or so.

“At the moment I’m focused on the game but when the club is ready we’ll sit down.”

Civoniceva fell out with the Broncos and coach Wayne Bennett in 2007 and eventually joined Penrith on a big-money deal, but he still owns his house in Scarborough and has admitted that he would like to work with new Brisbane coach Ivan Henjak.

However, the Panthers have no intention of letting him go without a fight.

“We’ll be taking the option up sooner rather than later,” Leary said.

“We’re just waiting for an opportunity to chat to him without interrupting his footy but to tell you the truth I expect it to be within the next week.”

Asked about rumours Civoniceva was contemplating a return home, Leary said: “You hear all of these rumours but we’ll just continue on.

“I’m sure that Petero is happy and we’re very happy with him.

“We’ll definitely be taking up the option – we’d like to think that Petero will finish his career with the Panthers.”

Meanwhile, Civoniceva has credited rookie five-eighth Wade Graham for sparking Penrith’s upset win over Manly on Monday night – their first of the season – and said young trio Graham, Lachlan Coote and Jarrod Sammut hold the key to the side’s success in 2009.

“They give us so much enthusiasm and energy when they are out on the field and Wade was the perfect example of that,” he said.

“When he came on in the first half he gave us the direction we’d been lacking. They are all great talents.

“Stepping up into first grade can be quite daunting but it’s important that we persevere with them.

“They’re starting to find their feet there now and so much rests on their shoulders.

“They’ve done a great job so far and I think they’re starting to raise their games to the next level.”

Graham was controversially overlooked for the opening two rounds of the season and, much like Sammut in previous years, wasn’t shy in admitting his frustration.

But he returned with a bang on Monday night as the little men inspired the Panthers to a 12-10 upset over the defending premiers.

“I barely said two words when I was a young bloke coming into grade but the game has changed a lot these days,” Civoniceva said.

“With the under-20s competition, kids come into first grade with a lot of skill and are obviously ready to take that step into first grade.

“It’s not such a bad thing that they show that confidence and desire to play first grade from such a young age.

“They’ve been great for us so far this season.”