Panthers lose Grand Final star

2003 Grand Final centre Paul Whatuira has signed with the Wests Tigers, it was confirmed today.

The New Zealand test star has been in and out of Penrith?s starting side this year due to the rise of boom utility Amos Roberts, who himself will be leaving the Panthers at the end of the season.

Despite centre Ryan Girdler and former Queensland representative Martin Lang retiring at the end of the season, Penrith have had trouble keeping some of their top squad due to salary cap restrictions. A number of players off contract have demanded more money due to the club?s recent success, which has seen fringe first graders become representative stars within 12 months.

Whatuira played in Penrith?s shock 18-6 victory over the Sydney Roosters in last year?s Grand Final and while the club was keen to keep him, it?s understood the Tigers? offer was too good to refuse.

?We are very excited that Paul has chosen to join us," said Wests Tigers CEO Stephen Noyce.

?He is a current International, has been a key member of the premiership winning Panthers team and was highly recommended by his ex-team mates who now play with us."

Whatuira says he's confident 2005 will be a success for both him personally, and for the Tigers.

?I?m really looking forward to joining Wests Tigers, I?m convinced they are a club on the way up," he said.

With the loss of both Roberts and Whatuira, it?s possible the Panthers will have enough funds under the salary cap to purchase one external player ahead of the 2005 NRL season.