Josh Mansour has delivered an emotional farewell to Penrith teammates as his move back to his junior club South Sydney positions the Panthers to ramp up its retention bid for boom centre Stephen Crichton.
Mansour, a fan favourite out west as the club's longest-serving player after 158 NRL games across nine seasons, has been released by Penrith with youngster Charlie Staines preferred to start on his left wing.
The Rabbitohs have picked up Mansour on a two-year deal after Corey Allan's release to join Canterbury, bringing the 30-year-old back to his old stomping ground where he played alongside current half Adam Reynolds at NYC level.
Mansour was moved to tears when he delivered his goodbyes to the entire Panthers squad and coaching staff at club headquarters this week.
"While this isn’t an ending I ever envisaged, I’ve made peace with the decision and I’m ready to move forward with a new challenge," Mansour said in a Panthers statement.
Mansour reflects on his time at the Panthers
"I want to thank the club and the fans for their incredible support through the ups and downs of the last nine years.
"I’m so grateful for every moment and everything Panthers has given me and my family.
"Whatever the future holds, I’ll always consider myself a Panther and be proud of what I achieved at the club."
Rabbitohs football manager Mark Ellison in turn said Mansour's leadership and professionalism would see his influence at Redfern extend far beyond the playing field.
The Rabbitohs have also been linked to off-contract Wests Tigers flyer David Nofoaluma, who is after a long-term deal as he negotiates with the joint-venture and fields interest from rival outfits.
"[Mansour] is a high work rate winger who is one of the competition’s leading players in terms of kick return metres, as well as a renowned finisher," Ellison said.
"More importantly he is a quality team and club man that inspires his team mates and brings energy to any team of which he is a part.
“He knows what our club is about and respects the tradition and history of South Sydney, as well as the community that the club represents."
Mansour's move continues ongoing roster moves as Penrith aim at keeping their best and brightest for the long-term.
Crichton sits atop Penrith's retention priorities alongside fellow NSW Origin squad members Isaah Yeo and Jarome Luai.
Analysing the Panthers' 2021 draw
Freeing up Mansour's 2021 salary gives the club further scope to reach Crichton's asking price for his next deal, which has been inflated by his Dally M centre of the year honours and NSW Origin squad selection last season.
Crichton, 20, has been in ongoing talks for more than six months with Penrith.
A three-year deal, believed to be worth around $1.5 million, had been reportedly agreed to earlier this year while Crichton was represented by his previous agent.
Having taken up the services of current manager Sam Ayoub in November, talks have centred on an upgraded three-year deal, and are understood to have progressed positively in recent weeks.
Canterbury had been a leading suitor for Crichton as he became free to negotiate with rivals from November 1, but club insiders say they haven't heard from the Crichton camp for some time and expect Penrith to retain the Mt Druitt local.
Fellow youngster Staines is set to start outside Crichton on the left edge in 2021, a move that led to Mansour being told he was free to find a first-grade spot elsewhere.
Staines was re-signed until the end of 2023 late last year, joining rising prop Spencer Leniu in knocking back a lucrative Bulldogs offer to stay put at Penrith.
Panthers products Matt Burton and Daine Lawrie have opted the other way, joining Canterbury and Wests Tigers respectively from 2022 having considered their chances of regular NRL game time amid a glut of young talent at Penrith.