NRL Rd 11 - Titans v Panthers
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 26: Stephen Crichton of the Panthers scores a try during the round 11 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Penrith Panthers at Cbus Super Stadium on July 26, 2020 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

They’re currently fighting to ensure they claim the minor premiership, but the Penrith Panthers will have another battle on their hands soon as they try to keep three of the game’s most promising young talents at the foot of the mountains.

State of Origin representatives Stephen Crichton, Liam Martin and Brian To’o are all entering the final years of their contracts in 2023, meaning they can explore the market at the end of this year.

With November 1 fast approaching, the Panthers are currently scrambling to extend all three.

But while NewsCorp reports negotiations have been proceeding well, the departure of assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo to take charge of the Bulldogs could prove problematic.

Though the club have gone on record claiming they trust Ciraldo not to plunder his former employer’s ranks, an opportunity to follow might prove tempting.

There have already been reports that Crichton may follow Ciraldo to Belmore as he chases his fullback ambitions, which may go unfulfilled at Penrith given Dylan Edwards has already extended his contract.

As well as opportunities, all three will be entitled to chase a bigger payday given their respective personal development in recent years. This could further complicate Penrith’s attempts to retain the trio.

The Panthers will still be a premiership force for years to come following the extension of Nathan Cleary, James Fisher-Harris, Jarome Luai and Isaah Yeo – but the retention of these big names is likely to create issues as the club tries to hold on to as much of the current crop as possible.

But despite the interest and reports linking him with a move away, Crichton says his playing future doesn’t require his focus at the moment.

“(I’m) still locked in with Penrith for the rest of the year and we have some big games coming up. I haven’t really thought about that outside stuff yet,” Crichton said.

“That time will come up. My main job is to perform on the weekend. I will leave it to the end of the year to make those big decisions.