There’s every possibility Josh Mansour won’t be at the Penrith Panthers in 2019. He knows that. But he also knows there’s every possibility he wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for the club.
Mansour still remembers it. The day the South Sydney Rabbitohs told him he would never play a minute of first grade. That he simply wasn’t good enough.
”In the end it came down to me or Andrew Everingham,” Mansour recalls.
Remember him? The skinny winger with the Filipino background who played 40 NRL games for the Rabbitohs before moving to play Japanese rugby union?
”Souths put all their bets on him,” Mansour said.
”And unfortunately I had to leave and look elsewhere. It was heartbreaking to be honest. When I was at Souths all I wanted to do was play for South Sydney my whole career.
”They didn’t really give me an answer. They just didn’t believe I was going to play in the NRL. But that’s their opinion. That fuelled me even more to prove them wrong. That’s why I came out here.”
Mansour was never the first kid chosen in representative teams. He never got a look in playing in his junior district – the Bulldogs weren’t interested.
And even at the Rabbitohs, he was never seen as a long term prospect capable of doing much more than filling a spot in the National Youth Competition.”
”I got a lot of rejection as a kid,” he said.
Then Phil Gould and the Panthers threw him a lifeline when it looked like he would have to settle for a career as a carpenter.
That was more than six years ago. Since then he’s knocked back numerous big dollar contracts to remain loyal to the club that gave him his chance.
”There was an opportunity to go overseas and play Japanese rugby,” Mansour admitted.
”The money was great at the time – I’m not going to lie. For someone that had no NRL experience, it was something I had to look at.”
There’s also the time he rejected a lucrative deal with the Canberra Raiders to stay for a hell of a lot less at the foot of the mountains.
Money has never been the driving factor behind his contract negotiations in the past. But this time around it’s a different story.
He doesn’t see that as selfish. It’s actually quite the contrary. Because if it was up to Mansour, he would finish his career where it all started.
”I love this club. I’ve always loved this club,” he said.
”And I’ve always believed in what this club is going to achieve in the years to come.”
He laughs when asked if it was basically going to come down to the highest bidder. He’s not the sort of guy to admit such a thing.
But the reality is, the birth of his first child at the end of 2017 has changed the way he thinks. There’s a feeling among Panthers hierarchy that they won’t be able to keep him, especially if they want to ensure the safe is loaded to keep Nathan Cleary away from his father and the Wests Tigers.
The clubs knows that he is not going to sacrifice a big money offer elsewhere to stay at the club to satisfy his own happiness, like he did in the past.
”Before when I made a decision on my future it was purely based on myself,” Mansour said.
”Now that’s not the case. I have a young family and now I can’t make selfish decisions based on what I want. Any decision I make is purely based on my family. Everyone knows how much I love my family. Family is my No.1 value in life. I’ll do whatever I can to make them happy
”I think the club is going to do the best it can to keep me. I have no doubts about that. But I’m sure if I was going to get an awesome offer somewhere else, I think I have the blessing from the club to go. I want to stay here. It is my desire to stay here, but we’ll have to see what happens. I’ve got to do what’s best for my family first and foremost.”
A lot could hinge on the success of the Panthers in 2018. They’ve got a roster, even following the departures of Matt Moylan and Bryce Cartwright, capable of challenging for a premiership this season.
Most thought that would be the case last year but the Panthers never hit their straps, despite a late resurgence to reach the second week of the finals.
”I think it was a bit unfair to give us the hype last year,” Mansour said.
”I don’t think we really proved that we deserved it. I think we kind of fell victim to that. I think teams prepared extra harder to beat you when they see in the papers and in the media that we’re the premiership favourites. I think that shocked all of us.
”I believe this year is going to be our year. I have that belief and the faith in this club to do something special. Hopefully that is this year.”
The fact that the Panthers are in a genuine premiership window is something Mansour will have to consider when deciding where to play in 2019.
But there are also plenty of rumblings out of the foot of the mountains regarding the status of coach Anthony Griffin.
The exit of Moylan and Cartwright, as well as the expected departure of Tyrone Peachey to the Gold Coast Titans in 2019, has led some to believe there’s an issue with the coach.
But Mansour insists it’s simply not the case.
”The whole team, we’re backing our coach,” he said.
”We have to. He’s backing us. We just have to repay that faith to him. He’s got players in and some players have had to leave under him. But that happens with any coach.”
Regardless of what transpires in 2018, Mansour is comfortable with what he’s achieved in a career that most thought would never get off the ground.
He’s developed a cult following at the Panthers and has achieved plenty in the game having represented his state and country the past few seasons.
But one thing still eludes him.
”’I still want to achieve a lot more and No.1 on my list is winning a premiership,” he said.
”That would trump anything I’ve achieved in my career.
”Looking back when I first started I never thought I’d be in this position I am today. It’s very humbling. Kids coming up to you on the street. I was one of those kids. The way they look at you … it’s an unbelievable feeling.
”I get a lot of satisfaction helping others and if I can inspire any kid then I’ve done my job. It’s an unbelievable feeling. Not many people can say they are living their dream. Not many people can say they’ve achieved it. To look back at everything I’ve done, I’m definitely happy.
”The memories I’ll take when I’m old in a pub with grey hairs, just thinking about the success I’ve had and hopefully one day winning a premiership. It will be unbelievable to share that with my kids and grandkids one day.”