Penrith is very much regarded as a developmental club with an outstanding junior pathways program, which basically means they don’t have to go out to market very often when it comes to signing players.
However, there is still the need to recruit a few ‘value players’ from outside the club every season.
This type of recruitment gives the young players in the system a chance to mature longer without the pressure of calling them into first grade before they’re 100 per cent ready.
Now I’m not talking signing ‘marquee’ players such as Matt Lodge from the Roosters or Ben Hunt from the Dragons. They’re out of the club’s price range when it comes to players the club can afford plus Penrith already has more than enough marquee players that they’re trying to fit under the salary cap without adding any more to the list.
The players I’m referring to are ones with first grade experience but who fall within the price range of $120,000 to $250,000.
Players like Jack Cogger, Zac Hosking, Luke Garner and Tyrone Peachey for example, fit this criteria perfectly.
For season 2024, I’ve identified three players which I believe represent value for money and can make a serious contribution if given an opportunity in the top grade.
The first player I’d go after is Daine Laurie, currently languishing in reserve grade for the Wests Tigers.
Laurie would be a great recruit because he came from the Panthers system, so he knows the systems, has plenty of first grade experience (44 games) and looks like he has never lost his love of the local area. He can also play fullback, centre and wing comfortably and at 23 years of age, still has plenty to offer.
The second player I’d try and get back is another local junior and current Tiger Shawn Blore.
Blore is another talented backrower who has had a bad run with injuries but seems to be over them now and could be a very handy pick-up for Penrith. In the same ‘value’ mode as Zac Hosking, he would be another great option for a backrow position.
Finally, a youngster who is currently playing for Parramatta in the lower grades but who also comes with huge wraps is halfback Ethan Sanders.
There is unconfirmed speculation that Penrith are already in negotiations with the talented halfback who was identified as a star of the future years ago.
With his pathway to first grade at the Eels seemingly blocked after both Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown signed long-term contracts with Parramatta, Sanders could find himself in the top grade alongside Nathan Cleary in 2025 if the Panthers are unable to secure the long-term signature of Jarome Luai beyond 2024.
Good halfbacks and five-eighths are hard to find and even though Saunders is untried in first grade and has several other clubs chasing his signature, at the right price he could well be worth the punt.
Peter Lang is an experienced sports writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.