Panthers boost: Merrin back, Mansour poised to stay
A RAY of light broke through the injury cloud that had descended on Penrith with forward Trent Merrin a shock inclusion in the squad to face Newcastle on Friday night.
In some more positive news for the Panthers, winger Josh Mansour - who was expected to leave the club after this season - now appears ready to re-sign.
Merrin dislocated and suffered a compound fracture of the index finger on his right hand during the warm-up to last Friday's clash against the Cowboys in Bathurst. He underwent surgery and was initially expected to miss three or four matches.
The forward posted a sickening X-ray of his finger on social media, showing the full extent of the damage.
However, Merrin though has made a remarkable recovery and was rated a 90 per cent chance of running out against the Knights after being named in the No. 8 jersey by the Panthers on Tuesday.
Penrith is already missing Mansour, Nathan Cleary and Dylan Edwards through injury.
And there was further good news for Penrith on Mansour's contract situation.
Four high-profile Sydney NRL clubs are jockeying to sign Mansour, the Penrith, NSW and Australian winger.
It's believed the Sydney Roosters, Canterbury Bulldogs, Wests Tigers and Parramatta Eels have expressed a strong interest in the injured Panthers star.
Just last month, Panthers general manager of football, Phil Gould, strongly indicated his club would struggle to find the necessary money to retain Mansour.
But Mansour loves the club and is desperate to stay.
Should the Panthers make a competitive offer, Mansour will now re-sign in what would be a super boost for the cub.
The Panthers are however looking ahead in case Mansour does leave by targeting Manly and former NSW winger Akuila Uate.
Mansour, 27, comes off contract after this season.
"He 100 per cent wants to stay at Penrith," said one well - placed source.
Mansour is a long-term injury issue for the Panthers after having major facial surgery last month. The winger copped an accidental knee to the head from Gold Coast's Anthony Don in round six, suffering multiple facial fractures. He was expected to miss 10-12 weeks.
The Eels have a link to Mansour through his friendship with Parramatta centre Michael Jennings.
Wests Tigers joined the race late but look ready to make a bold play for Mansour.
High-profile wingers coming off contract after this season include Blake Ferguson (Roosters), Jarryd Hayne (Parramatta) and Brett Morris (Bulldogs).
Mansour is currently recovering from horrific facial injuries which required surgery last Friday.
There were fears he wouldn't play again this season but doctors now believe Mansour could return halfway through the NRL's second round.
Gould told Nine's 100% Footy Show in April that his club may not be in a financial position to re-sign Mansour.
"There's obviously a loyalty thing there, we love him very much," Gould said "He's been great for the club and he'll always be a part of his club.
"But whether we can match the money out there for someone that wants an experienced winger in the back end in their career - we probably can't match that.
"Josh would be a great servant to us or anyone he plays for - and he's still in great form."
Mansour publicly admitted earlier this season he may be forced to leave Penrith, albeit reluctantly.
He would worth around $450,000 on the open market.
Well liked and admired throughout rugby league, Mansour missed half of last season after injuring his knee while in England with the 2016 Kangaroos.