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David Fifita, Penrith Panthers coach Ivan Cleary labels Gold Coast Titans major player, signing

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary labeled David Fifita a ‘big player’ but was reluctant to talk about the Panthers’ pursuit of the Gold Coast Titans star amid revelations of a secret meeting to lure him south and a large contract offer.

Fifita has a two-year option to extend his Titans contract through the end of 2026, which he has until next Thursday to exercise, with potential suitors lining up to potentially sign a $1 million season with the State of indicate origin.

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The Panthers have lost a truckload of talent in the wake of their three successive premierships and with premiership striker James Fisher-Harris set to leave at the end of the season, Fifita could be a target.

Cleary met with Fifita in Sydney on Sunday, sparking a flurry of speculation. The Panthers have since offered him a deal worth more than $850,000 per season.

But on Monday the premiership-winning coach said he already had his ‘quota’ to talk recruitment stories in 2024. Instead, he merely admitted that his team was always looking for “evolution.”

“With all due respect, I’m not going to comment on the recruitment today,” he said.

“It is a very sensitive issue, all recruitment, and it affects many people, clubs, players, agents, families, and I think we have already reached our quota for recruitment stories this year.

“We always want to evolve, that’s the challenge when you lose players and if you just stay the same, the game passes you by. We’re always trying to develop, but when you do that there’s always the danger of losing what you’re good at, so that was a balance.

“Last year we did that a bit wrong. It’s not a challenge, it’s actually fun to figure out what that looks like as a group and I’m looking forward to doing that along the way.”

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GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA – MAY 04: David Fifita of the Titans runs the ball during the round nine NRL match between Gold Coast Titans and Melbourne Storm at Cbus Super Stadium, on May 4, 2024, in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Cleary said that while the Panthers’ “mandate” was to build the team from within, this situation was different.

“We spend a lot of time, money and effort on that and we will continue to do so,” he said.

“But if you don’t have that, you have to look outside every now and then.”

However, Cleary is said to be discussing the impending return of his superstar son Nathan after an injury during Friday’s home game against the Bulldogs.

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Nathan was in no rush back for the demolition of the unfortunate South Sydney last week.

“Right now he’s ready to go,” Ivan said.

“We had problems with the game against Souths because of the five-day turnaround the week before. I probably should have called in advance because we knew it was going to be a difficult task to play your first game back (in Townsville) after having a few weeks off.

“We could have rolled the dice, but we didn’t want to take the risk.”