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Fisher-Harris on his way out of Panthers to join NRL rivals after 'one of the game's elite players' gets early release

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17th April, 2024
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James Fisher-Harris is set to return home, with the marquee player announced as signing with the New Zealand Warriors.

The New Zealand franchise has announced the big move on social media, securing the services of the 28-year-old on a four-year deal.

A three-time NRL premiership winner at the Panthers, Fisher-Harris has made 183 appearances for the club, as well as four caps for the Maori All-Stars and 15 appearances for New Zealand, and was named as the 2023 Golden Boot winner for his efforts.

A decorated member of the Panthers since his arrival in 2016, the move is a significant grab for the Warriors, who will lose Addin Fonua-Blake to the Sharks at the end of this season after he also secured an early release from his deal.

The Panthers were approached last week by Fisher-Harris with a request to return home to New Zealand following the 2024 season on compassionate grounds, which the club granted.

His exit is a bitter blow for Ivan Cleary, who has fine-tuned the prop into one of the competition’s most damaging and intimidating front-rowers.  

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But the silver lining for the Panthers is that it will free up north of $900,000 in unforeseen salary-cap room.

The Panthers, who will also lose five-eighth Jarome Luai to the Wests Tigers in 2025, will want to replenish their forward stocks, with Tigers prop Stefano Utoikamanu the best-credentialled alternative to replace Fisher-Harris.

The New Zealander’s exit allows Penrith to resharpen their focus on retaining players already at the club. Winger Suniva Turuva has been heavily linked with a switch to St George Illawarra, but Fisher-Harris’s departure could strengthen Penrith’s hopes of retaining him.

“Fish has been exceptional for the Panthers, both on and off the field,” Cleary said. “The leadership and cultural impact he has displayed since coming into first grade has been outstanding.

“He’s evolved into one of the game’s elite players, and coaching him has been a pleasure.”

In an interview with AAP in 2023, the prop said his rejection from the Warriors as a junior fuelled his desire to crack the NRL. “It definitely gave me an edge when they overlooked me,” Fisher-Harris said.  “But that would be like every Kiwi who has come over to Australia.”

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Fisher-Harris’s arrival in Auckland replenishes an already stacked forward pack.

“It’s going to be fantastic having James with us,” said Warriors coach Andrew Webster.

“He’s one of the game’s elite players, a super tough forward who sets and demands the highest standards.

“I loved working with him at the Panthers, and we really look forward to bringing him into our system from next season. 

“He’ll add terrific value to our roster, to the club overall, and he’ll also be invaluable as a mentor for our young players coming through.”

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