Warm, humid weather greeted new Penrith recruit Peta Hiku on Tuesday afternoon as he began his new life as a Panther.
The former Manly Sea Eagles star and Kiwi international was a late, surprise inclusion to Penrith’s plans for 2016 after he inked a three year deal with the club late last week.
Hiku was released from his Manly contract two years early so the Sea Eagles could sign South Sydney Rabbitohs star back Dylan Walker.
The 23-year-old will be with the Panthers until the end of the 2018 season.
Hiku had a number of clubs chasing his services for next season and beyond but speaking at a media conference this week, the New Zealander said he was pleased and relieved to have his future sorted for the next three years.
“Penrith were a late inclusion in the negotiations but they were the best option for my family,” he told the Weekender.
“My partner is pregnant and we’re expecting a baby in June, so I thought it was the best thing for her and I.”
Hiku began his career at the New Zealand Warriors (lower grades) before signing with Manly in 2013. He went on to play 61 first grade games for the club, scoring 28 tries and kicking three goals.
Classy in any position in the backline, Hiku even played five-eighth during New Zealand’s recent three Test series against England.
With Penrith losing superstar centre Jamal Idris this off-season, it’s expected Hiku will fill that vacant role that was causing new coach Anthony Griffin a headache.
“I think a big part of Gus getting me over was me having experience in the centres,” Hiku said.
“Gus spoke about the ANZAC Test quite a bit [where I played in the centres], and Penrith were lacking a left centre with Jamal Idris gone, so he was really keen on me being an outside back here at the club, which I’m really looking forward to.”
With Manly blessed with an excellent fullback in Brett Stewart and two great centres in Steve Matai and Jamie Lyon, Hiku spent most of his time at the Sea Eagles on the wing.
“I wasn’t really a winger, I didn’t enjoy being on the wing,” he admitted.
“I suppose it was the right move for me going to a different club where they don’t have as much experience as Manly does in the backline.”
Hiku will spend the Christmas break moving his family from the Northern Beaches to Penrith.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.