Unlucky O’Donnell bound for Panthers

MOUNTAIN BOUND: Kyle O’Donnell will play for the Panthers next year.  Picture: Simone De Peak
MOUNTAIN BOUND: Kyle O’Donnell will play for the Panthers next year. Picture: Simone De Peak

KNIGHTS tyro Kyle O’Donnell is determined to have played more than seven minutes of NRL football with Newcastle when he leaves to join Penrith on a two-year deal after this season.

The 21-year-old brother of former Cowboys, NSW and Australian back-rower Luke O’Donnell is in the second season of a two-year deal with the Knights and signed with the Panthers yesterday.

‘‘I’m very happy with it and looking forward to it, but obviously focusing on the rest of this year first at Newcastle,’’ O’Donnell said.

‘‘It’s a pretty good opportunity I think for me to play some first grade out there, so that is the main thing that lured me there.’’

The former Junior Kangaroo has played one NRL match, lasting seven minutes in the 34-14 loss to South Sydney on July 8 before being heavily concussed from a Sam Burgess shoulder charge.

He made four runs, including two tackle breaks, for 44metres and completed three tackles in his short-lived but eye-catching debut.

The second-rower came back to action last Saturday in a 22-0 NSW Cup loss to Illawarra Cutters at WIN Stadium and is hunting a return to the in-form first-grade side before the year is out.

‘‘Next year is in the back of my mind at the moment,’’ he said. ‘‘My main focus is maintaining my form and hopefully forcing my way back into the first-grade squad and get another crack.

‘‘I played my first game back on the weekend against Illawarra and it was a pretty good test against a pretty big pack. I pulled up sweet after that.’’

O’Donnell has spoken to Panthers supremo Phil Gould about his exciting prospects at the club and he will be closer to family at Penrith, but he said the decision to move was still a tough one.

‘‘I’ve loved it in Newcastle,’’ he said.

‘‘It was a hard decision to make to leave. It’s a great club with great people and everything, but I think in terms of opportunities, it’s in my best interests to head to Penrith.

‘‘It will be great to move back closer to family but the most attractive thing for me was what I saw as a greater opportunity to get some NRL experience and establish myself as a regular NRL player.’’

O’Donnell’s manager, Wayne Beavis, said other NRL clubs had shown interest in his client but the Knights were out of the picture after citing salary cap pressure.

O’Donnell joins former Knights Clint Newton, Brad Tighe and Luke Walsh at the Panthers.