The Penrith Panthers might have Stefano Utoikamanu at the top of their recruitment hit list, but the Wests Tigers have confirmed they will be unwilling to let go of the star youngster without a significant fight.

The Panthers earlier this week dropped a major bombshell on the NRL by confirming they will grant star prop James Fisher-Harris a release from the final two years of his rich playing contract with the club.

It means the Panthers could be short a prop for the 2025 and 2026 season, although, as always seems to be the case at the foot of the mountains, the club has a plethora of talent working its way through the ranks.

Despite that, reports emerged almost immediately that Penrith had their eyes fixed on signing Wests Tigers' prop Stefano Utoikamanu, who has now begun to reliase some of the potential which had him highly rated as the best junior forward in the game during his youth, at one point playing for New South Wales in the junior State of Origin.

Utoikamanu, who has 59 games of NRL experience under his belt, is off-contract at the end of next season, but it's well known that there are clauses in his deal - including the Tigers playing finals football this year - which could allow him to walk away at the end of 2024.

While it's unclear whether the Panthers will come to the table with a major offer for the forward, new Tigers' boss Shane Richardson has confirmed the club want to keep the star forward, labelling the clauses "unusual."

“We want to retain him for the rest of his career, and we'll do everything we can to do so,” Richardson said per The Sydney Morning Herald

“They're very unusual clauses. But they were based around the club we once were, I understand that, and we're not that club any more.

“I'm not worried that there's interest from Penrith or whoever – the reality is we want him to stay, and I believe he'll stay.

“We'll work something out in the next 60 to 90 days. He's in a good headspace, and he gets along really well with Benji.”

Utoikamanu has made it clear his preference is to remain at the Tigers on more than one occasion, despite previous criticism of the leaks which often came out of the club during previous administration.

Speaking to the media, Benji Marshall said the club love the forward, and that it's a priority to lock up his future, while also suggesting he isn't worried about rival clubs' interest.

“We love Stef, and we've made it really clear with him that he's a big part of our future,” Marshall said.

“The fact of the matter is that he's still on contract here next year. We all know there are clauses in his contract, but they can't talk to him until November, so I'm not worried."