While Panthers recruit Luke Garner is the favourite to replace Viliame Kikau, another contender has emerged for the vacant left edge position.
Zac Hosking’s phone went berserk after he made his NRL debut last July.
About a year after giving the game away, a handful of impressive outings for Brisbane was enough to convince a couple of clubs to offer him a deal that would change the rookie’s life.
But there was one team he ever really considered.
“If the premiers want you, I suggest you go there.”
That was the advice former Kangaroos representative and his old coach, Andrew Ryan, gave him when the time came to make a decision.
Now the self-described “battler” has a chance at filling the premiership-winning size hole created by the departure of Viliame Kikau at the Panthers.
In fact, Hosking will be one of precisely 100 players – 30 of which come from the competition newcomers in Redcliffe – hoping their move to a new club will pay off this year.
There are big names, from Brandon Smith (Roosters), Reece Walsh (Broncos), Reed Mahoney (Bulldogs), Jackson Hastings (Knights), Api Koroisau (Tigers) and Josh Hodgson (Eels).
But there are also plenty of smaller names too, like Hosking, who had spent his entire childhood dreaming of representing his hometown of Newcastle.
Hosking was crowned NSW Cup player of the year three seasons in a row at the Knights but couldn’t get a look in, forcing him to abandon his first-grade ambitions in 2021.
“It was a brutal let-down, to be honest. I cracked the shits,” he recalled.
“I said to myself, ‘I can’t keep doing this to myself mentally. It’s ruining my headspace’. So I gave it in, continued chipping away on the job site as a chippy.
“But then the opportunity come up to go to Brisbane. I had just got out of that mindset of chasing the NRL and now, ‘Do I dive back into that?’
“After talking to a lot of people that I respect, mentors, they said, ‘You don’t want to look back and say you wish you went up to Brisbane and had one last crack.”
The son of former Manly cult hero David then had a memorable debut, making 143 metres, five tackle busts, and 33 tackles in a gut-wrenching 80 minutes.
One week later the phone went hot. Like, defending premiers hot.
“For a team and a club of this calibre to stretch their arms and try and get you to come there, knowing how good their junior system is as well, was flattering,” Hosking said.
The easy part was saying yes. The difficult part will be the goal of stepping into the boots of a fan favourite and key part of Penrith transforming into a premiership force.
“My game compared to Kikau’s is not chalk and cheese, but a bit different,” he said.
“I describe myself more as a battler out there, get through a tonne of work, and go do the things that people don’t notice as much.
“Kikau is really an x-factor type player where he can come up with a huge play and stretches across all the highlight reels.
“I’m more of a head-down arse-up, get through a heap of work kind of player.
“I think that’s something they value really highly here, someone who can put the team first. That’s how I’ve always played.”
BRONCOS – Reece Walsh
“I didn’t miss any games when I left, even though I was playing for the Warriors, I still watched every single Broncos game.
“I still had a lot of mates who played for the Broncos, that’s when I really thought that I loved the club and that I hoped one day if I get the opportunity to go back, I will.” – Courier-Mail
BULLDOGS – Reed Mahoney
“I want to be the best, that’s who I am.
“I’m going there to win.
“I’m not going there for any other reason. I see it as a big challenge in this chapter of my career.
“I’ve closed the book on one chapter and opened up another one.” – Daily Telegraph
SHARKS – Oregon Kaufusi
Got stuck playing bench minutes at Parramatta but faces a similar challenge in the Shire where the grand-final prop will battle for playing time with Toby Rudolf, Royce Hunt and Braden Hamlin-Uele.
DOLPHINS – Anthony Milford
“A big part of me choosing the Dolphins was Wayne’s loyalty.
“When you go through a tough time in life, you find out who you can rely on and Wayne was always there for me.
“Wayne has done so much for me over the last 12 months and I’m just glad I’m back playing football again.” – Daily Telegraph
TITANS – Kieran Foran
“I am confident I am not a risk for the Titans.
“I can understand the critics out there saying I’ve had my fair share of injuries and why would the Titans sign me, but I have shown in the past 18 months the hard work I have done has paid off for my body.
“I’m proud of the way I have soldiered on. My career has been dead and buried four or five times and I just kept picking myself up and proving I can keep doing the job.” – Courier Mail
SEA EAGLES – Kelma Tuilagi
Tualagi committed to the Sea Eagles before a ball had been kicked off last season, and he’ll wear the No.12 jumper that was primarily filled by Andrew Davey, who has since moved on to Canterbury. Didn’t quite showcase his best in a bigger role at the Tigers last year, but is expected to make a jump at Brookvale.
STORM – Tariq Sims
“I’m hoping I bring some aggression.
“I know the blokes down here, they’re very aggressive naturally. I’m hoping to learn off them as well. It’s a two-way street. Being around those young blokes definitely puts a shot of youth in you.
“That excitement to train, being physical with those bigger boys is definitely a challenge and I love challenges.” – Storm website
KNIGHTS – Jackson Hastings
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed (to leave the Tigers)
“I wore my heart on my sleeve at every training session and every game.
“Whether I wasn’t wanted or wasn’t needed, it took me a few days to get over it because I was angry at the fact I wanted to be there and be a part of the solution, not the problem.
“There were a few days there I was angry and hated the world for a bit.” – Nine
COWBOYS – James Tamou
“I kept an eye on the Cowboys a lot. I’ve always had a soft spot for them.
“I admired their style of play. I think after Origin there, I was turning to some of the boys down south and was saying Reuben Cotter is my new favourite player.
“What these boys have done is nothing short of amazing… I’m here to buy into what they’ve done and earn their respect.” – Cowboys website
EELS – Josh Hodgson
“The easy road would have been to retire. At 33 after my third knee people would’ve pulled the pin, getting a pay out to sit on the beach and drink a beer instead of working your arse off.
“In 2021 I was playing good footy, but I was playing 60 minutes at loose forward after starting the game at nine.
“I didn’t want to transition into a loose forward. I wanted to be one of the best nines in the game and I was seeking outta challenge to do that.” – Daily Telegraph
PANTHERS – Luke Garner
“There could have been a future for me at the Tigers, and another club or two.
“But once Penrith approached me and Ivan (Cleary) showed some interest, Penrith was the place. We worked well together at the Tigers. We’re working well together now.
“They’re premiers, I have mates here that were telling me how good the environment was. It’s hard to say no to that stuff.” – Daily Telegraph
DRAGONS – Jacob Liddle
“There was a bit of a brick wall at the Tigers and with Api (Koroisau) coming across, I was due for a change.
“I’d love to be a long-term hooker down here. Obviously McCullough has retired so it’s opened up for me to take.
“I’m just having a red-hot crack and working hard every day.
“I’m 26 now. If I don’t take it now, well, there’s no better time.
“There’s no more excuses, that’s for sure. It’s all on me.” – Daily Telegraph
ROOSTERS – Brandon Smith
“I’m getting used to the training with a lot of long-distance stuff. I’m loving it because I try to get hot and sexy and fit for a job.
“Hopefully after another 47 more days, I’ll look good at Bondi Beach with my shirt off.
“That’s not why I’m getting fit – rugby league is my No.1.” – Roosters website
WARRIORS – Mitchell Barnett
“For me now where I’m at in my career, I want to bring some experience. I feel like we’ve got a real young side here. I want to lead from the front and bring a bit of experience.
“Kevin Campion’s a real good player. I don’t know what to say to that. I haven’t heard that before. Hopefully I can live up to something he did.
“He was a real tough player, played the game really hard. I want to try and bring something like that.
“But I’m in no way shape or form a comparison to him, especially at the moment. I’ve got a lot of hard work to do and a lot of improving to do.” – Warriors website
TIGERS – David Klemmer
“It wasn’t an issue coming here. I was in a similar boat last year with the Knights. We finished somewhere similar.
“Wests Tigers beat Parramatta last season, they beat some of the top sides so they obviously have some sort of talent here.
“The club has had a clean out with some staff in coaching and high performance. The club has their own approach and how they’re doing things around training.
“I just want to make sure our performances are consistent. We don’t want to be going up one day and down the next. We have to make sure we don’t put in any s**ty performances.” – Daily Telegraph
RAIDERS – Danny Levi
“Playing footy over there was very different. It was a lot colder – very cold – but I’m sure I’ll get used to that again (herein Canberra).
“I enjoyed every minute of it, it was an awesome experience. I got to take my family over there so I loved it, but it’s good to be back home.
“Footy-wise, I got to test my minutes out. I got to play 80 quite regularly over there so it was good to know I can get through a full game week in, week out.” – Raiders website