News 2024 | Brad Fittler, James Fisher Harris departure from Penrith Panthers, signs four-year deal with Warriors from 2025

The Penrith Panthers will be left with a massive hole in their forward pack, with the departure of star prop James Fisher-Harris set to send Penrith searching through the market to fill the gap.

The three-time premiership player announced he will be joining the New Zealand Warriors on a four-year deal after eight seasons with Penrith.

Fisher-Harris was granted a release from the remaining two years on his contract to return home on compassionate grounds on Wednesday.

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1991 Panthers premiership player Brad Fittler revealed Penrith selectors are “sure to be busy on the market”, revealing he expects the open availability in the team will be appealing to many young players.

“They’re losing Jarome [Luai] and they’re losing now James Fisher-Harris. You’ve got to think a lot of players now would want and could see a good future at Penrith,” Fittler told Wide World of Sports.

“They’ve got to see out this year but then they lost another two good ones in Jarome and James. So I’m sure they will be very busy in the market.”

Fisher-Harris’ departure leaves a major hole in Penrith’s forward pack, with the side losing two of their most prominent forward players in the last two years – with former Panther Spencer Leniu joining the Roosters at the end of the last season.

The Panthers have lost an extensive list of players in recent times, with club ringleader Luai leaving at the end of this season after signing a five-year monster deal at the Wests Tigers.

The stacked departures could be the beginning of the end for one of the greatest teams of the modern era, with limited players set to hit the market during the off-season.

Fittler revealed he is sure the Panthers will have their eyes on the market, although, will likely be unable to find a player who can match the experience and strength of Fisher-Harris.

“It is really hard to imagine, but a lot of young blokes seem to be stepping up,” said Fittler.

“Nathan’s been pretty good, but that’s still with Jarome in the team.

“From a holistic overall point of view, I wonder how much money they have at the moment… At the end of the day you’ve got to balance it all up with what you’ve got coming through.”

The league legend revealed he believes 22-year-old Liam Henry, who made his NRL debut with the Panthers in 2022 against the Cowboys, could receive a call-up to the team, however, his lack of experience in first grade may not be enough to fill the hole. 

“A lot of these players, they’ve got have sort of all come through and they’ve got maybe one or two years under their belt. I just feel like they might need a bit more,” said Fittler.

“You don’t get James Fisher-Harrises and Jaromes. They normally take years to develop.

“They haven’t made too many bad decisions over a long time… I would be nearly guaranteed that they would have to go to the market to find a little bit of experience.”

According to Sydney Morning Herald reporter Michael Chammas, Penrith are looking towards recruiting Wests Tigers prop Stefano Utoikamanu to fill the gap.

The 23-year-old will become a free agent later this year, with a clause in his contract allowing the star to be released if the Tigers fail to make the top eight.

The Herald reported the star will also be unable to play two State of Origin games for NSW in 2024 if he wishes to trigger the clause.

Fittler, who was previously the coach of the New South Wales Blues team, revealed he believes Utoikamanu “would be very appealing” to coach Ivan Cleary, naming him as a “perfect” replacement for Fisher-Harris.

“I’m a fan of him. I played him at Origin… [He] would be very appealing.

“He would be perfect for them, just perfect.”