Penrith Panthers 'question marks' arise over 'imminent' David Fifita signing from Titans

The hulking Titans forward is expected to make a big-money switch to Penrith.

Questions have been raised around what David Fifita's signing could do the Penrith Panthers, amid concerns he won't fit the system at the three-time defending premiers and could have a destabilising effect on the squad. The Gold Coast Titans and Maroons forward has reportedly been tabled a three-year, $2.5 million deal to join Penrith, while the Dragons and Roosters are also interested in acquiring the 24-year-old's services. Multiple reports claim the Roosters have tabled Fifita a four-year deal at $825,000 per season.

Fifita has until round 10 gets underway in the NRL on Thursday night to activate a two-year extension with the Titans, after which time he becomes a free agent. The clause in his contract has sparked a fierce battle for Fifita's signature but it's understood the Panthers are in the box seat to secure his services, with The Australian's Brent Read telling NRL 360 on Tuesday night that an agreement to join the Panthers is "imminent" and will more than likely happen on Wednesday.

Concerns have been raised around the NRL world about how David Fifita would fit in at Penrith. Pic: Getty
Concerns have been raised around the NRL world about how David Fifita would fit in at Penrith. Pic: Getty

The Panthers have cash in their salary cap for next season after agreeing to release James Fisher-Harris to the Warriors, with the Kiwi Test prop on a deal reportedly worth around $1 million per season. Fifita will certainly add a frightening new dimension to an already formidable Penrith side if he does agree to join the premiers as expected, but News Corp league reporter Dave Riccio warned the signing could have a negative impact on the Penrith squad.

“I’ve got some question marks around the impact on this Panthers team,” Riccio said on NRL 360. “This is a side that has built themselves on hard working, tradesman-like players — Isaah Yeo, Liam Martin, Scott Sorensen — players that have sacrificed throughout their careers salary-wise, taking pay cuts to win premierships.

“And we haven’t seen Penrith drop an $800,000 player into their system yet and I’m concerned about the ripple effect on this playing group. When players have taken pay cuts along their career to buy into a culture, to go and buy an $850,000 back-rower, who you have no idea whether he’s going to fit your culture, and get paid more than what some of those guys that have already achieved, I question that. I question that the impact could be damaging.”

Riccio suggested players who'd already won premierships at the Panthers could understandably be a little miffed by the big-money move to sign Fifita. And he suggested the Panthers could instead use the money to upgrade the contract of someone like gun prop Moses Leota. “I think the reward should be with the playing group that’s earned the right," Riccio said.


NRL great James Graham agreed that Fifita's move to Penrith would contain some degree of risk and questioned whether the destructive edge forward would fit into the methodical system that Penrith have perfected over the years. “Is he a Penrith style player? When you think of the Panthers... a star player gets removed, somebody slots in — systematic,” Graham said.

Seen here, Titans superstar David Fifita in the NRL.
Several NRL clubs are locked in a battle to secure the services of Titans superstar David Fifita. Pic: Getty

“Is David Fifita a systematic style player? A great player, a destructive player, but is he a systematic player?” NRL 360 host Braith Anasta agreed and said Fifita would be likely to have to make a big adjustment if he does decide to join Ivan Cleary's side. Anasta said Fifita “won’t know what’s hit him when he gets to that club and realises the system he’s got around him, the player’s he’s got around him.”

Despite some of the concerns, Read said he was sure senior players at the Panthers would have been consulted about signing Fifita before the club decided to table its three-year offer for him. And he suggested after releasing Fisher-Harris and freeing up so much salary cap space that it would “be irresponsible not to make a bid for David Fifita” if the Panthers can get him for $850,000 per season, when other sides might be able to offer more.