CAMERON Ciraldo has spent much of this year worrying if he would have a job next year.
Those fears were allayed on Tuesday when he met with former NSW Origin and two-time premiership-winning coach Phil Gould, Penrith’s general manager of football operations, who offered the towering Knights back-rower a two-year contract.
Though his preference was always to stay and play in Newcastle, Ciraldo was realistic enough to know that was unlikely to happen, and he happily agreed to terms with the Panthers yesterday.
‘‘When someone like Phil Gould wants to sit down and talk to you and offers you a contract, you’d be silly not to take it,’’ Ciraldo told the Newcastle Herald.
‘‘I was really excited about that, but I’m also really excited about finishing off on a good note here and playing some semi-finals before I leave.’’
Penrith will be the 26-year-old St Joseph’s Menai junior’s third club after he began his NRL career at Cronulla in 2005 and played 19 games in three seasons at the Sharks before joining the Knights in 2008.
Ciraldo insisted he was not offered a three-year deal at $120,000 a season – the figures Gould famously scribbled on the top left-hand corner of a notepad while doodling at an NRL think tank four weeks ago.
On the same piece of paper, Gould wrote that he was leaving that meeting of NRL chief executives and chairmen to head to Newcastle.
Some observers linked the two notes but Ciraldo’s contract is for two years and the financial terms are more modest.
‘‘I’m pretty happy with how it’s all worked out, to be still playing in the NRL, and to be playing in Sydney will be good for my family as well,’’ he said.
‘‘I would have loved to have stayed here. Both my daughters [Taya and Ryley] were born here, my family is settled here, I love living here and I’d love to move back here in the future.
‘‘But the chance to keep playing NRL and be close to my family in Sydney is a good thing.’’
He obviously did not rate highly on future Knights coach Wayne Bennett’s retention hit list, but Gould and incoming Panthers coach Ivan Cleary have clearly been impressed by what they have seen of him this year, and they must have admired his perseverance and patience.
Ciraldo suffered a career-threatening broken leg and dislocated ankle playing for the Knights against the Sharks two games into 2009, but he fought back to play 13 games last year, and has been a mainstay in the pack for the second half of this year.
He was sidelined for eight weeks after tearing a pectoral muscle in Newcastle’s 26-12 loss to Manly at Brookvale on March 27 but has played 10 of their past 11 games and is determined to keep his spot in the squad as the Knights chase a finals berth.
‘‘I haven’t played in a semi-final yet, and this is the last time this group of players are going to be together, so I’m desperate to keep a spot in the team and help us get to the semi-finals,’’ he said.
‘‘The way we’ve gone about everything this year, I think we deserve it, but we’ve just got to make sure we put ourselves there now.
‘‘It’s going to be hard to come back here and play next year. I’ve got a lot of good friends here, and it’s really exciting ... what’s happening up here, but unfortunately I can’t be a part of that.’’