This week, it suddenly hit home for Brian To’o that he and his three Penrith “brothers” – Jarome Luai, Stephen Crichton and Spencer Leniu – may have already played their last game together for the premiers.
Luai, To’o’s best friend, dislocated his shoulder last weekend and, though he is pushing hard, is no guarantee to return for the preliminary finals.
Crichton and Leniu, meanwhile, have a maximum of five games left for the premiers before they join Canterbury and the Sydney Roosters respectively next year.
“All four of us are really close off the field,” To’o told this masthead ahead of Saturday evening’s clash against North Queensland. “They were all in my wedding party and while we’re not related by blood, we’re brothers by choice.
“It’s an undescribable bond. Every team has their own bond with their brothers, but I’m really tight with these boys and I grew up with them.
“To see two of them go their own way is going to be different. It’s a weird feeling. There will be mixed emotions.
“It wasn’t nice to see one of your brothers go down last weekend. It’s never good to see any of your teammates go down, or anyone injured [for that matter]. Hopefully [Luai] can come back stronger, and whether that’s this year or next, he’ll do his thing.
“I know Romes, he doesn’t like to complain, and he likes to be tough with it. God willing he’s back. The prelim final is the set date, but we’ll see what happens.”
To’o is signed at Penrith until the end of 2027. Crichton pursued the chance to play fullback at Canterbury and Leniu was lured by the promise of a starting front-row spot at Bondi. There are hopes Penrith can still accommodate Luai, who is a free agent come November 1. The club locked down fullback Dylan Edwards until the end of 2028 on Wednesday.
Pint-sized winger To’o, who has played NSW Origin with Luai and Crichton – the trio, along with Leniu, represented Samoa at last year’s World Cup – said in an ideal world they would have stayed and finished their careers as one-club players.
“‘Critta’ is mature for his age, he’s way more mature than me, and he’s done what’s best for him and his family,” To’o said. “It’s the same with Spenny. As long as it’s good for them and their families, and it sets them up, I’m happy for them.
“In the normal world it would be great for all four of us to stay at the club. But it’s the way it is.
“As long as we get to put on a jersey, and do what we love, and put smiles on the faces of kids and fans, that’s all that matters.”
Coach Ivan Cleary was delighted Edwards had extended his deal, and remained upbeat about locking down Luai.
“We’re confident we can offer ‘Romy’ what he is worth, and like Dylan, he’s a Panther, he belongs here, he knows it and we know it,” Cleary said.
The Panthers are a live chance of winning the minor premiership after Brisbane lost at home to Melbourne on Thursday night.