Penny pinchers: Why players are taking huge pay cuts to join Penrith

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Daine Laurie will return to Penrith next year for about $150,000 – less than half his salary at Wests Tigers this year.

Paul Alamoti heads west from Canterbury for roughly half the $450,000 of his most recent Canterbury contract.

Zac Hosking turned down a larger offer from Canberra.

Tyrone Peachey was ready to walk away from the game, before taking $100,000 less than the $375,000 he was guaranteed in his Tigers contract.

Luke Garner took a pay cut, though not as steep, to make the same move from wooden spooner to potential premiership winner in a year.

Should Peachey, the 18th man for Sunday’s grand final, play in a Panthers win, the pair would join Brenko Lee (Titans to Storm in 2020) and Harvey Howard (Magpies to Broncos in 2000) in trading last for first within 12 months during the NRL era.

Tyrone Peachey is loving life at Penrith after he was ready to walk away from rugby league.Credit: Getty

The premiership rings Penrith collect for fun are an incentive. But just as it was previously with Craig Bellamy at Melbourne and Trent Robinson at the Roosters, so too is a chance to learn from the best.

“I love hearing that because when I first came into grade, it was the opposite,” captain Isaah Yeo says.

“Players were taking less to play at other clubs, whether it was the Storm or the Roosters.

“To have sustained success is obviously a big factor, but it’s a really good tip of the cap to the club’s status. It’s taken a long time.

“Especially given Penrith, from the outside looking in, it’s got a reputation as not the greatest destination for people to come. It’s got a rep though because it’s western Sydney and it’s not near a beach.

“But for people to come out here, they then don’t want to leave once they’re out here, which is a tip of the cap to the community as well and how far the club has come.”

Star five-eighth Jarome Luai faces a well-documented contract conundrum. When the season ends, he can formally negotiate with rival clubs, who will offer seven-figure salaries.

What price can you put on the Panthers effect?

Life has been good for Luke Garner since his move to Penrith.Credit: Getty

For players like Laurie and Alamoti, a $200,000 sacrifice on one deal is made with the examples of Sean O’Sullivan and Jack Cogger in mind.

Cut-price contracts for an opportunity in the NRL’s best system can work out eventually for players with potential that, for whatever reason, is yet to be truly realised.

“I’m such a better footy player than I was this time last year, my footy knowledge has grown so much just by being around this group and these coaches,” Garner says.

“It’s not really a lightbulb moment, probably more just you pick things up over time. I’m fitter and stronger. You put the work in and it pays off.”

Even Hosking, who earned more as a carpenter than a fringe NRL player earning $1000-a-week on train-and-trial deals, had little hesitation when Penrith called.

“It was still an easy decision to take Penrith, with the greatest respect to other clubs, because when it comes to your footy, you know you’re in the best position possible,” Hosking says.

Meanwhile, Peachey’s pay cut – as part of a trade with Charlie Staines – required the NRL salary cap auditor’s approval.

Once facing early retirement, the former NSW Origin utility has been so revitalised by his time at Penrith, he’s eyeing a post-career move into coaching.

“I was hating life, I was hating footy and it wasn’t fun any more,” Peachey says.

“My body wasn’t too bad but my heart wasn’t in footy. But to come back to Penrith, I was nervous every day before pre-season. They’re just animals out here.

“You just don’t want to let anyone down. The system here just brings the best out in you.

“Everyone here rips in, the juniors are guns coming through and you just don’t want to let anyone down. The system here just brings the best out in you.”

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