A rich deal with Penrith worth around $2.4 million sees him leave Cronulla and complete the Panthers’ recruitment drive.

They believe they’ve completed their premiership puzzle by adding the two time premiership winner to the spine.

But the work isn’t over for Phil Gould.

In fact, it’s ramping up.

The clock is ticking to re-sign their most important puzzle piece and Gould has 50 weeks to do it.

While they have a steady head in the halves with the arrival of Maloney, the veteran is 32 next June.

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Nathan Cleary of the Panthers in action.
Nathan Cleary of the Panthers in action.Source: Getty Images

Nathan Cleary is the future and just 20.

He’s in no hurry to re-sign. Why would he be? His price tag is rising by the week.

As of November 1 next season, Cleary hits the open market.

He’ll be the most sought after half in the game with the likes of Te Maire Martin, Corey Norman, Luke Brooks, Shaun Johnson and Mitchell Moses also off-contract at the end of 2019.

It was just a few months ago the Panthers were attempting to extend Cleary for a further five years on a deal worth $600,000-a-season.

If the Gold Coast are paying Ashley Taylor more than $1 million-a-season, what’s Cleary worth?

The answer is a lot more than $3 million over five seasons.

Being touted as NSW’s next Origin halfback, Cleary’s future is a major headache for the Panthers.

Nathan Cleary celebrates a victory.
Nathan Cleary celebrates a victory.Source: News Corp Australia

It also doesn’t help when Nathan’s father, former Panthers turned Wests Tigers coach Ivan, makes no bones of his desire to sign his son.

“We’d like to play together. It’s just a question of timing really,” Cleary Snr told NRL.com recently.

“He’s still got two years to go at the Panthers and I think that’s good for him. He’s not in a hurry to decide that, but we both realise that this situation is a pretty unique opportunity.”

While the Panthers have time on their side to get a deal struck with Cleary, they have some more pressing matters.

Their fullback, Dylan Edwards, is unsigned beyond next season, as is Test winger Josh Mansour.

Back-up half Tyrone May, who is recovering from an ACL injury, is also off-contract.

What the Panthers do with their roster over the next 12 months could prove crucial.

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