Brisbane prop Ben Hannant has labelled the return of Petero Civoniceva to the club in 2012 as the perfect tonic for the loss of retiring captain Darren Lockyer after the veteran front-rower announced today that he would finish his career at the Broncos.

And Hannant confirmed that recent events at Penrith – where stand-in coach Steve Georgallis was controversially overlooked for the top job in favour of Ivan Cleary next season following the mid-year sacking of Matt Elliott – was at the heart of Civoniceva’s departure.

Civoniceva stunned Penrith fans this morning when he revealed that he had been released from the final year of his contract with the Panthers to return home to Brisbane next season.

A veteran of 212 games for the Broncos between 1998 and 2007, he will now become a leading contender to take over the captaincy in 2012, with Hannant declaring that it would well and truly soften the blow of Lockyer’s departure.

“We’ve got a really good leadership group here but with him coming back, I rate him right up there with Locky in the way he leads by example on and off the field,” Hannant told NRL.com today.

“I couldn’t have been happier when I heard the news. I know we’ve got a lot still to do this year but when I finished training today I thought ‘Geez it’s going to be good to have the big fella back next year’.

“With Lockyer going, to be able to have someone of Petero’s leadership and abilities back at the club is going to be great.”

Halfback Peter Wallace offered similar praise after learning of Civoniceva’s return at training this morning.

“We’re absolutely stoked – especially with Locky leaving at the end of the year,” Wallace said. “Petero is a great player and he leads by example every week. From talking to the boys at Penrith, he brought a lot of confidence to the place and he’ll do the same here.

“I only heard about it this morning but having him here is going to be great for the club after Locky retires.”

Ironically, Civoniceva stated only weeks ago that it was business as usual at the foot of the mountains and didn’t rule out remaining at the club beyond 2012.

But Hannant confirmed that the 35-year-old had in fact been contemplating the move for some time after confiding in his fellow front-rower during this year’s State of Origin series.

“We talk about that sort of stuff all the time – his wife and my wife are good friends and he is one of my best mates on the footy field,” Hannant said. “Obviously things going on at Penrith aren’t the way the players wanted things to happen. I know he had a lot of pressure to stay there at Penrith because he was captain of the squad and there was more responsibility to stay but that hasn’t worked out as planned for them so it’s good to have him back.

“I actually think it works out well for everyone – they get a fresh start and Petero gets to come back home. We wish he had never left the Broncos but unfortunately he had to due to circumstances but it’s great that he is back where he belongs.”

While Penrith fans will be understandably disappointed, Hannant said they should be proud that he stayed on for an extra two seasons after seriously considering returning home 12 months ago.

“I think he felt an obligation to stay and that’s the sort of bloke Petero is – he tries to do the best thing by everyone else,” Hannant said. “But things happen and it is awesome for the Broncos – I’m pumped… I’m that excited. It will be awesome playing with the big fella again. He is playing the best footy of his career right now and he’s a great leader. I can’t wait to be packing in alongside him again next year.”

Civoniceva has signed a one-year deal with the Broncos.