SIKA MANU, the most prized of the 14 new Penrith recruits, has no qualms about leaving a team that came first for one tipped by most punters and bookmakers to come last.
No club has recruited more aggressively than the Panthers, with the premiership-winning forward joining new faces including Mose Masoe (Roosters), Lewis Brown (Warriors), Dean Whare (Sea Eagles), James Segeyaro (Cowboys), Wes Naiqama (Knights), Jeremy Latimore (Dragons), James Roberts (Rabbitohs) and Tom Humble (Wests Tigers) at Penrith in 2013.
Given Melbourne finished the year as premiers - and the Panthers only just above wooden spooners Parramatta - it appears a risky move for the New Zealand international. But Manu has seen enough in pre-season training to suggest the Mountain Men are a better shot at the title than the $41 on offer, on the last line of betting, offered by most bookmakers.
''I was quite shocked with the amount of talent we've got at this club,'' Manu said. ''It will come down to attitude, we definitely have the talent to do it. It will come down to if we work hard enough for it.''
So why the change? ''I just needed something different,'' he said. ''I've been in Melbourne for about six years and I needed a new challenge. Me and my partner also have a lot of family here as well, so that played a big part of it. Gus [Panthers boss Phil Gould] played a big role as well. There are quite a few islander boys here and we have one of the biggest junior clubs.
''He said it would be helpful if I can come down to be a leader for them. I like to help out the young boys and the Polynesian boys, they sort of grew up the same way I did and I can understand them.''
Players and coaching staff officially unveiled the club's new playing strip at an inaugural fan day at the Panthers Leagues Club on Saturday. Coach Ivan Cleary told supporters his new-look side was primed to be one of the big improvers next season.
''Basically, I want to let you in on a little secret - we're going to have a great year,'' Cleary said. ''Last year was the beginning of laying a foundation. Sometimes when you lay a foundation, you've got to scratch around and try to find that hard surface to build on. Certainly now we're looking to do that. We've got a lot of new players and I've got to say they've all fitted in really well … we'll certainly have a team you can be proud of.''
The Panthers are planning to hold more training sessions in the afternoons to acclimatise for what will be a steamy start to the campaign.
''When the draw came out a couple of weeks ago, the first thing I noticed was that our first four games are on a Sunday,'' Cleary said. ''In those March-April months it's still hot, and three of those games will be at Penrith and one is at Campbelltown. We see that as a point of difference for us.''
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