Five years after declaring his undying hate for western Sydney rivals Parramatta, new Eels buy Michael Jennings will make his club debut against former team Penrith.
Coach Brad Arthur has opted against taking his star recruit to Auckland for the Nines, and will instead unveil Jennings in front of his old fans in their trial at Pepper Stadium on February 20.
The Kangaroos representative, who spent his first six seasons as a Panther, said he would never have predicted turning out in the blue-and-gold.
“I wouldn’t expect to be playing for Parramatta being a Penrith junior, but that’s just the way it is now,” he said on Wednesday.
The 27-year-old said his comments from 2011, when he said he didn’t hate the Parramatta players “just the team they represent’, had attracted plenty of friendly abuse from his new teammates.
But he was ready for more potential backlash from the Panthers faithful in a fortnight.
“That was just a young boy, that’s just a passionate Penrith boy. You had that rivalry when you’re playing for Harold Matts and SG Ball,” he said.
“I look back at it now, it’s pretty funny.
“It’s good for the fans, they love it. And you enjoy that rivalry. It makes you motivated to play your best footy.”
Jennings has spent the past three seasons with the Sydney Roosters, winning a premiership and establishing himself as one of the premier centres in the competition.
He also helped NSW break Queensland’s eight-year reign in State of Origin in 2014.
The Blues mainstay said he would’ve liked to extend his career at Bondi, but was swayed by the security of a four-year contract offered to him by the Eels.
He will be 31 by the time his new deal expires.
“It was a hard decision but at the same time, I had to do the best for myself and my family and my wife. The decision was a good one,” he said.
“It was a long-term opportunity here, and to secure that and get that this year is probably the main reason.”