NRL star: ‘I hated league this year’
REAGAN Campbell-Gillard has opened up on his surprise departure from Penrith, with the Parramatta-bound prop saying he "hated" rugby league this season.
The Panthers last week confirmed Campbell-Gillard had been released despite not even entering the first season of a five-year extension he signed in 2018.
The Eels handed Campbell-Gillard a deal for the same length of time, but it is understood Penrith will pay a portion of the salary for a number of years.
Stream NRL Finals on KAYO SPORTS. Live & anytime on your TV or favourite device. Get your 14-day free trial and start streaming instantly >
A Penrith product who made his debut with the club in 2015, Campbell-Gillard described the decision to leave as the most difficult of his career.
"I've known this club for nearly 10 years. You want to be a one-club man, but we're in a business that doesn't allow you for it," Campbell-Gillard said.
"I'm nervous, excited, but sad at the same time, to move on."
In a year where he also started 20 of his 23 matches off the bench, the former Kangaroos star said it was one of his most challenging years in the league.
"It was one of those years that I really want to forget," the 26-year-old said.
"I really hated rugby league this year. It's just been a frustrating year.
"Towards the back end I was starting to find my groove again and feeling confident. I just gotta take that as motivation into a good pre-season."
Campbell-Gillard departs 18 months after making his State of Origin debut with NSW, which came less than a year after his maiden Kangaroos appearance.
"You want to kick on a bit after making those teams, and obviously that wasn't the case this year. But I'm not going to allow that to stay at that point," he said.
"I'll be definitely be doing everything I can to pushing for that next year."
He is the latest in a growing list of Panthers to exit despite being signed to long-term deals, including Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Waqa Blake and James Maloney.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary defended his roster shake-up at the club's end-of- season awards night on Tuesday, where they confirmed 10 departures.
"Throughout the year we made some significant changes or decisions around the roster (for) the flexibility and sustainability of our salary cap, which essentially is looking after the future of the club," Cleary said.
"Some of the decisions we make, at the end of the day, is best for all the Panthers stakeholders, whether it's players, staff, corporate partners but also fans."
Cleary, who also lashed out at the media for what he perceived as heavy criticism of his controversial return to the club and his team's poor start to the year, also accepted part of the blame for underachieving this season.
"As the head coach I take responsibility for the results this year. Personally, I don't believe I was at my best," he said.
"But along the way I've learned a lot.
"I've faced some challenges this year that I never have before.
"At the end of the day it's made me stronger, more understanding of the job, myself, and I approach the future next year more motivated as I ever have before."
Panthers forward James Fisher-Harris cleaned up with three awards, including the Merv Cartwright medal as the club's best player of the season.