Leilani Latu denies release talk
Panthers forward Leilani Latu has strongly denied claims he will seek an early release to depart the club at the end of the season.
Speculation was ripe last week the 24-year-old was unhappy at the foot of the mountains despite agreeing to a new three-year extension last July.
Panthers teammate Tyrone Peachey was also mentioned in the report as another player who was looking to move on after limited game time this season.
A bemused Latu told NRL.com the rumours were wide of the mark.
"I found out before I went to New Zealand from my teammates and as soon as I read the link I contacted my manager and spoke to Gus (Panthers General Manager Phil Gould) about it," he said.
"As soon as I knew I was safe and those rumours weren't true at all I haven't looked any further in it. It certainly isn't my intention to go anywhere.
"The funny thing is like when I was in New Zealand I had a fan come up to me and say see you next year and I had to tell him it wasn't happening.
"And I also noticed Fox Sports put me in Newcastle's 2018 team. My wife showed me that and I just thought 'what's going on here?'"
Latu admitted he understood why the rumours might have started after less time spent on the field this season.
In 2016 the Tongan international averaged 46 minutes per game but that number has since decreased to 34 after the addition of former Australian international James Tamou in the Panthers' front row.
"I'm sure there are a lot of theories to the rumour but to compare from last year to now is tough because it's a different team," Latu said.
"Fortunately there are less injuries now to when 'Peach' and I were required to play bigger minutes last year.
"[Panthers coach Anthony Griffin] spoke to us from the beginning and said it was going to be very hard to make the top 17 and if we did we'd likely get limited minutes so in that time we have to perform at our best.
"Whether it's been 25-40 minutes for Peach or myself we've just tried to go out there and add that momentum for the side."
Latu said he felt indebted to the club after admitting he almost walked away from rugby league at 20 years of age.
It was Gould who kept him in the game.
"I love this club and they threw me a lifeline," Latu said.
"There was a time where I wasn't sure I wanted to play football ever again and Gus was the first man to ring me.
"They've given me security, they helped me buy a house and get my life back together when it was at a crossroads.
"I played all my junior footy at Canterbury and once I did my shoulder they let me go, so I'm forever fortunate Penrith took a chance on me and picked me up.
"I'm signed here until 2020 and plan to stay for as long as possible."
The Panthers returned from a successful trip to New Zealand on the weekend but have lost Trent Merrin for at least six weeks with a knee injury.
Skipper Matt Moylan has been named to return at five-eighth after missing the Warriors clash with a hamstring injury, while the side will also be boosted by the return of injured hooker Peter Wallace.
"Losing Mez (Merrin) isn't ideal and it's a bit like two steps forward and one step back for us on the injury front," Latu said.
"It's good to have Wal back as well as Bryce [Cartwright] and Dean [Whare] on the training paddock at the right time of the season."
Griffin's men will spend the next month of football at home with four consecutive home games at Pepper Stadium.
The Titans are coming off an impressive victory against last year's premiers Cronulla and after winning the corresponding clash in Penrith last season, will head south confident of causing another upset.
"Guys like Ash Taylor and Konrad Hurrell are the danger and with Jarryd Hayne sweeping around the back, we're going to have to be on our game right away," Latu said.
"They've got experienced players with a wealth of knowledge. Nathan Peats isn't the Origin hooker for nothing so we're very mindful of the skill he possesses from the play the ball.
"Being back at home is good and has us all settled, but it won't mean anything if we can't get the results."