RUSSELL Packer will always owe a debt of gratitude to St George Illawarra, but the chance to secure his family’s future by way of a lucrative four-year deal with Wests Tigers from next season, was simply too good to pass up.
The Tigers confirmed the deal on Wednesday, meaning the next chapter of one of rugby league’s best redemption stories will continue at Concord from 2018.
Having rebuilt his life and career in Wollongong, Packer said the decision to part ways with the Dragons at season’s end was a difficult one, but ultimately the right one for his family.
“Like any contract negotiation you’ve got to weigh up the pros and cons and the ability to look after my family for fours years there was a massive pro,” Packer said.
“When you make these decisions you don’t rush into the them, you take your time away and decide what’s best for your family.
“It’s going to be sad to leave the club but in the nature of this game you've got to make those decisions and it’s probably a cliche but you do have to put your family first and the ability to provide for them for four years was something that I just couldn’t pass up.”
The Tigers deal, that will take him past his 30th birthday, comes just a fortnight after making a return to the Test arena, six years after debuting for New Zealand as a 21-year-old.
It’s a long way from the dark days of a 12-month prison sentence following an assault conviction in 2013 and Packer said the red v will always hold a special place in his heart.
“It means a lot to me under the circumstances of coming to this club and having the ability to, not only rebuild my career as a rugby league player, but also my life with my family,” Packer said.
“I’ve got the utmost respect for everybody involved in this club from [CEO] Peter Doust all the way down. There’s too many people to thank.
“There’s been a lot of people here who’ve really helped, not only myself, but my family, my children, for the two and a half years we’ve been here.
“I always believed in myself and my ability as a rugby league player. Obviously I’ve been in trouble and I’ve paid the price but I just believe if you put in the hard work, you’ll end up getting the results and I’ve been able to do that at this club.
“It’s something that I’ll always treasure, the memories that I’ve had here so far and I’m hoping to add a few more good memories before I move on.”
While his future is now secure, Packer said he is determined to ensure his time at the club ends in finals action.
“It’s good to secure my family’s future but that’s in 2018,” Packer said.
“I’m currently at the Dragons this year so all my energy is here. I’m not the kind of bloke who thinks too far into the future anyway, you never know what’s around the corner. As a rugby league professional these are the things that you do.
“You have to forward-plan your career but my sole focus is on this year with the Dragons, trying to get this club back into the semi-finals where it deserves to be and doing something special in this competition.”
The news of Packer’s end-of-season departure came on the same day the Dragons confirmed in-form front-row partner Paul Vaughan has extended his stay with the club, signing an extension that will keep him in Wollongong until the end of 2021.