Penrith Panthers and New South Wales Blues star halfback Nathan Cleary has revealed he understands the club may shed players in the coming years.

Cleary has recently elected to re-sign with the Panthers on a mega deal, although even that - believed to be $1.1 million per year according to various reports - was a pay cut against what he may have been able to receive elsewhere in the competition.

Rated as the game's best player, Cleary steered the ship for an NRL premiership and State of Origin victory last year, and is now locked down with the Panthers until the end of the 2027 season.

Penrith have already lost Viliame Kikau and Apisai Koroisau to the Canterbury Bulldogs and Wests Tigers for the 2023 season respectively, while Robert Jennings also signed with the Dolphins during the week. They followed Kurt Capewell, Matt Burton and Paul Momirovski, who all left at the end of 2022.

While their list of off-contract players at the end of this year is shrinking, and doesn't include many out and out best 17 players - the best of the group include Matthew Eisenhuth, Taylan May and Sean O'Sullivan as well as future stars Kurt Falls, J'maine Hopgood and Lindsay Smith, it's those players off-contract at the end of 2023 which are of most concern.

Alongside Cleary, the club have invested big money in the likes of Dylan Edwards, James Fisher-Harris, Moses Leota, Jarome Luai, Isaah Yeo and Brian To'o.

At the end of 2023, the club could stand to lose a currently off-contract group including Spencer Leniu, Liam Martin, Scott Sorensen, Charlie Staines and Izack Tago, while youngster Thomas Jenkins is also off-contract.

The battle to hold those players, particularly with the arrival of the Dolphins, will be a difficult one. There has already been plenty of speculation regarding Origin forward Martin's future this week, and with To'o, Yeo and Luai as well as Stephen Crichton off-contract at the end of 2024, the men from the foot of the mountains face a salary cap balancing act.

Speaking to News Corp, Cleary said he would attempt to help convince his teammates to stay, but was open to the reality of the NRL.

“I’d love to keep everyone,’’ Cleary said.

“But the fact of the matter is though, you’re probably not going to be able to keep everyone.

“We have seen it this year with young guys getting their opportunity and have done a really good job.

“That’s the nature of rugby league, it’s not always going to be the same 17 every year, people are going to move on.

“It’s something we’ve got to live with.

“Hopefully I can get in their ear and we keep a few."

Cleary reportedly took a decreased pay packet than what market value could have provided him in an effort to free the club and help keep members of the premiership-winning team.

Most of Penrith's side are local juniors, with the club's development and pathways system reaping the rewards of years of hard work.