NRL: Penrith Panthers coach Ivan Cleary philosophical over losing star front-rower James Fisher-Harris to NZ Warriors

Penrith Panthers coach Ivan Cleary hopes prize front-rower James Fisher-Harris can return to his best form, now he's confirmed a move across the Tasman to join NZ Warriors next season.

The NZ Kiwis captain dropped the bombshell during the week, sending Warriors fans into delirium, as his arrival effectively makes up for the departure of Dally M Prop of the Year Addin Fonua-Blake.

Fisher-Harris, 28, cited compassionate grounds for his transfer on a four-year contract and Cleary admits he sense something was bugging his talisman forward, who has been a mainstay of his team during their back-to-back-to-back NRL championships.

Ivan Cleary and James Fisher-Harris celebrate their 2023 NRL Grand Final victory.
Ivan Cleary and James Fisher-Harris celebrate their 2023 NRL Grand Final victory. Photo credit: Getty Images

"I can't really say I felt it coming, but luckily I have been around him long enough to know that he hasn't been himself," he said. "I didn't predict that would be the thing, but I knew there was something up. 

"I'm just glad we could do it quickly and respectfully. We'll get on with life."

Fisher-Harris had a try in the Panthers' 22-6 win over Wests Tigers, running for 138 metres and making 27 tackles in his best performance of the season so far.

"I thought at the start of the game, you could see... it's been a very big week or two for Fish, who's been carrying that emotional burden for a long time," said Cleary. "I know he was very relieved to get it out in the open and get it done.

"It's not surprising he's been a bit sapped of energy and stuff, so it was great to see, in that second stint, he was able to show some good signs. Hopefully, he can move on and we'll see the best of Fish again." 

The former Warriors coach isn't dwelling on Fisher-Harris' imminent departure.

"I'm happy for him and his family," he said. "That's a real strong internal drive he has and a connection he wants to see through, so we'll be fine.

"We'll just worry about this year. We've got him now and we're just worried about the present – we'll work it out."

Fisher-Harris admits the decision was easy.

"It's been a bit emotional obviously," he told Fox Sport. "I've been here for 10 years now, since I was a kid.

"The village has raised me... West Sydney, Penrith. I've still got a long season ahead, so it's early days.

You never know, I may not come back out here again, so I'm just making the most of it."