Panthers becoming an NRL heavyweight
Penrith captain Peter Wallace says the club's prized signing of Trent Merrin proves the foot of the mountains has now become an attractive destination for quality players.
The Panthers on Monday announced the recruitment of the current NSW Origin forward on a three-year deal that will take him through to the end of the 2018 season.
Merrin, 25, rejected overtures from Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett to link with Penrith next year in a move Wallace said would be an added boost ahead of their season-opening clash against the Bulldogs on Sunday.
"He's obviously a quality player," Wallace said on Tuesday.
"And being an Origin player too, it's confidence that the club's going in the right direction. We're appealing for players of his standard to want to come to the club. It's great for the club I think and he'll be a great addition next year."
The Panthers halfback said the recruitment of the in-demand Dragons forward also meant players endorsed the culture change at the club under the leadership of boss Phil Gould and coach Ivan Cleary.
"I love the club, but also the culture that Ivan and the rest of his staff have built in the last few years," he said.
"That's probably something to be proud of. People on the outside can see what's going on here and want to be a part of it."
The coup does however cast doubt over Penrith's ability to keep a host of off-contract players this year, including the likes of Lewis Brown, Adam Docker and Sika Manu.
Prop Nigel Plum has already signalled his intention to retire at the end of the season, while veteran front-rower Brent Kite is likely to follow.
Wallace hoped the club could keep as many of their off-contract teammates as possible.
"I'd love to keep everyone, but in the modern game, it's very hard to do that. That's for the coach and everyone else to work out. Hopefully they'll stay," he said.
Five-eighth Jamie Soward agreed, but said players were resigned to the club's difficulty in managing salary caps.
"Those guys have been around and a massive part of the culture change that Ivan brought in. They need to be rewarded, but everyone understands that it is a business going forward," he said.
"Of course we want to see those guys hang around and play first grade, they're first grade players. It'll be up to the people behind the scenes to sort that out.
"For me it's just concentrating on playing. Hopefully we can all stay together, but I think everyone deep down knows. It's not up to me. It's up to the people that control the money."