Outgoing Penrith front-rower Tim Grant has revealed Panthers club officials told him to look elsewhere long before he asked for an early release from his contract several weeks ago.
Speaking for the first time since announcing a move to Redfern next season, Grant said he was approached before the season began about a possible release two years before his contract was due to expire.
"At the start of the year I was told that I could have a look around and see what other offers there are because of contracts and salary cap and all sorts of stuff. And to be honest, that's what my manager did," Grant said.
Those circumstances led Grant, 26, to agree to an immediate move to South Sydney three weeks ago.
But when the final touches on a mid-year transfer between the two clubs fell through, Penrith cut off negotiations and declared that the local junior would see out the final two years of his contract at the club.
"It got to the 11th hour and I think commercially the Panthers had to do some sums and they did. I wasn't going anywhere," he said.
A furious Grant then requested an early release from his contract. On Wednesday last week, the club granted his wish, freeing him to leave at the end of the season.
"I spoke to the club and I'm a man of my word – I asked for a release and here we are. I spoke to Shane Richardson and Michael Maguire - they were under the impression that I was moving on and so was I. The rest is history," Grant said.
Grant debuted for the club in 2007 and has spent all eight seasons since at the foot of the mountains, including a breakthrough 2012 when he earned his first Origin jumper.
He spoke of the difficulty of sorting out his future while representing the club he supported as a kid.
"With my hand on my heart, I honestly love the club," he said. "It's a big part of me and my family as well. In making the decision that was right for me, I honestly think it was right for the club. I ticked all the boxes and the best thing for me at the moment and for the club as well is me moving on at the end of the season.
"... It was hard for me to go down there and speak to other coaches. My heart was with Penrith at the time, and it still is until I pull on the jersey for the last time."
Grant is one of two remaining contracts – fellow prop Sam McKendry is the other - negotiated by former CEO Mick Leary, and his exit signals the end of an era that included the controversial departures of Luke Lewis and Michael Jennings.
"I've got a spot for Penrith in my heart and I'm 100 per cent behind the change and Gus made the change, and Ivan made the change. I'm one of the blokes who said that change is good. And you're a hypocrite to say it's good and if it gets to you, you start kicking stones and that. So that's what's best for the club at the moment," he said.
"I'm going to keep my house here in Penrith. My kids will grow up in Penrith and hopefully one day they'll get to play for the club like I did. Moving in the right direction – at first it's emotional, and it's a bit selfish to get emotional, but I think the club's moving in the right direction and on a commercial front, that's what was right for the club and they made the decision."
Grant also revealed that he sought advice from Lewis and Jennings as he mulled over the decision.
"Michael Jennings and Luke Lewis, they're like brothers to me. They were there for advice, but they never weighed in on an opinion which was good. They were just there to support me as a mate and it was great," he said.
And with his future now sorted, Grant said he was fully focused on a big finish at the club that first gave him his shot.
"Penrith's always my home. I come here in Penrith in 2007 with just a young kid with a dream," he said.
"I know it sounds cheesy, but I've fulfilled my ambition of playing first grade in Penrith which I thought I'd never be able to do. I believe that I've weighed in, put my input into the club's culture and moving into the right direction into the new culture – I think I've been a part of that. And I'm happy with it.
"... I've got a lot of unfinished business. For me, I'm really excited about moving onto South Sydney but that's 1st of November. I'm happy with where I stand there and the contract's in the filing cabinet."