NSW coach Ricky Stuart has firmed as the man to take over at the Penrith Panthers next season and an announcement could be made at the end of the State of Origin series.
Stuart has been linked to taking over from dumped Panthers coach Matthew Elliott and The Weekend Australian was told yesterday only his commitment to the Blues was stopping the appointment becoming official.
Phil Gould is in charge of appointing a new coach but Stuart has had a fractured relationship with Gould since taking over from him as coach at the Sydney Roosters. The former friends traded barbs when Stuart was coach at the Cronulla Sharks but they patched up their differences over lunch two years ago.
Stuart left the Sharks at the end of the season before committing to a three-year deal with the NSWRL but he has an out-clause in his contract if he lands a job in the NRL.
While he is passionate about the Blues, he has never lost his desire to return as a NRL coach.
There was further speculation yesterday that Elliott might not see out the season which could allow Stuart to return as early as July once the Origin series is over.
Penrith director Greg Alexander was tight-lipped yesterday other than to say Gould was still working through his options.
Other candidates who have been mentioned include Steve Georgallis and Jim Dymock.