Samoa superstar Stephen Crichton will leave Penrith Panthers at the end of the season to pursue an opportunity with a rival club in the NRL.
The 22-year-old’s management team has notified the NRL champions that he will be seeking opportunities elsewhere from 2024.
Crichton’s next destination has yet to be confirmed. He has been heavily linked with Canterbury Bulldogs, where former Panthers assistant Cameron Ciraldo is the head coach.
On leaving Penrith, Crichton said: “It was the hardest decision to make, but now my full focus is on the 2023 season and finishing my time at Panthers as strong as I can.
“It’s going to be tough to leave my team-mates, but we will have our chance to make more memories this year.
“I know my friendships at Panthers won’t finish here but will last forever.”
Crichton has scored 41 tries in 76 games for the Panthers since making his first team debut in 2019.
The Apia-born centre or full-back has played a key role in helping Penrith win back-to-back NRL Premierships.
Panthers sad to be losing Stephen Crichton
The Panthers say they made a “substantial” offer in May 2022 to extend Crichton’s time at the Panthers and were disappointed they couldn’t reach an agreement at that point in time.
But contract discussions were put on hold at the back end of the 2022 campaign due to the uncertainty surrounding the NRL salary cap and CBA negotiations.
Penrith chief executive Matt Cameron said: “Although Panthers is disappointed by the outcome, the club respects Stephen’s decision; and understands the situation is exacerbated by salary cap pressure based on the club’s recent success.
“The club thanks Stephen for his efforts; and is looking forward to seeing him represent the Panthers for the remainder of the 2023 NRL season.”
Crichton played in all three State of Origin games in 2022 for New South Wales.
He then helped his beloved Samoa reach their first-ever Rugby League World Cup final in the autumn.