Penrith claimed a scrappy victory over the Eels last night to resurrect their nightmare start to the season, but things are far from rosy in the Panthers clubhouse.
The club is reportedly facing a massive salary cap crunch, and are increasingly desperate to offload multiple stars to free up cap space over the long term.
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According to The Daily Telegraph, the club has locked in 13 players on hefty long-term deals which account for an estimated $5 million-plus portion of the $9m salary cap.
The list of players on contract for at least another two seasons are Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Nathan Cleary, Waqa Blake, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Wayde Egan, James Fisher-Harris, Jack Hetherington, Jarome Luai, Viliame Kikau, Liam Martin, Josh Mansour, Dean Whare and Isaah Yeo.
It an adds an intriguing subplot to the looming exit of wantaway flyer Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who has been granted permission by the Panthers to speak with rival clubs.
The former Penrith captain requested an immediate release from the club earlier this week, unhappy with his inability to lock down a starting role at fullback.
The Kiwi Test skipper was dropped for last night’s Round 11 opener, and has been widely criticised for his desire to walk out on the struggling Penrith side.
Panthers great Ryan Girdler lashed the unhappy flyer as ‘entitled’ and “certainly not worth” the $700,000- $800,000 per year he is currently earning.
Girdler said “He hasn’t played well and basically wants out of the joint – and it just goes to show where they are at the moment, the Panthers.”
Penrith will likely have to shelve out a significant portion of that wage packet for Watene-Zelezniak to play for another side next season — most likely the Eels or Cowboys.
Assuming DWZ does leave, the Panthers will have an estimated $4 million in cap space to cover the salaries of the remaining 18 players not on long-term deals, placing the club under significant financial strain.
The Daily Telegraph reports the star trio of Josh Mansour, James Maloney, and Dylan Edwards could all be headed for the exit door as the Penrith hierarchy attempts to balance their books.
Maloney has previously been linked to a move to England, which also appears a likely landing spot for Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, brother of Dallin.
Malakai suffered a rib injury in Round 8 against Canberra, but was expected to return this week. However, he joined brother Dallin on the sidelines for last night’s win and was also ommitted from the Canterbury Cup ranks.