Jarome Luai's connection with Wests Tigers coach Benji Marshall could hold the key to the three-time premiership winner's NRL future. Luai dropped a massive hint that he could be tempted into leaving the Panthers, following comments from coach Ivan Cleary.
The Penrith coach made some extraordinary claims that throwing big money at Luai would be a risk. Cleary pointed out that Luai has never been the chief playmaker at Penrith and might not warrant more than $1 million per season - a figure he is almost set to command from a rival club.
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The representative No.6 responded by posted an anime-style image of himself on Instagram with the caption "know your worth", accompanied by the 50 Cent song 'Hustler’s Ambition' from the film 'Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. The fact that the five-eighth made three references to money could be bad news for the Panthers, who can reportedly only offer Luai a new two-year deal worth $850,000 per season due to salary cap pressures.
Luai officially went onto the open market on November 1 meaning he's free to speak to rival clubs. The five-eighth is still contracted to Penrith until the end of the 2024 season.
Discussing the game's most talked-about contract saga on The Daily Telegraph's NRL Podcast, league reporters Brent Read and Michael Carayannis suggested the comments from Cleary could come back to bite Penrith. “The fact is you are worth what someone is willing to pay you,” Read said. “So to say that he is not worth $1 million, well you know what when he goes to open market he will get $1 million, so that is what he is worth.
“So it is whether you get value for the pay packet that is the issue... The other thing about Ivan’s comments and the feedback to that is I reckon Jarome will be looking at that going, I can be the main man.
“It could actually prompt him to leave. I think he would see that and go, 'well I can do it. If you doubt me I will go and do it somewhere else.'"
Benji Marshall could hold key to Jarome Luai's future
Carayannis admitted that Cleary's comments "could light the fire" in Luai and ultimately persuade him to leave the club and prove his coach wrong. The league reporter suggested Luai's relationship with Wests Tigers coach Marshall - a man he grew up idolising as a player - could make the joint-venture club an attractive proposition for the playmaker.
“The Tigers have an interest,” Carayannis said. “There are some interesting quotes from Jarome that he used to idolise Benji Marshall. Benji was the star player that he really looked up to.”
Read revealed Luai and Marshall struck up a close bond after featuring together for the Maori All Stars, before the Tigers coach called an end to his playing career. “They know each other, they were roommates and teammates with the Maori All Stars two or three years ago,” Read said.
“That’s when Jarome made those quotes. He said he loved Benji from the age of five when he saw Benji in the 2005 Grand Final. He grew up with a Tigers towel that he used to dry himself with every day. It was a heartwarming story.”
Jarome Luai also linked with Bulldogs
Read and Carayannis believe the only other rival club that has a shot of luring Luai away from Penrith is Canterbury. The Bulldogs - under club supremo Phil Gould - have signed a number of Luai's former Panthers comrades such as coach Cameron Ciraldo, Matt Burton and Viliame Kikau, with Stephen Crichton also moving to the Dogs from next season.
“The smokey is Canterbury right?” Carayannis said. “Given the Stephen Crichton and Cameron Ciraldo connection and their desperate search for a half. They are the smokey. I think they (Bulldogs and Tigers) are the two clubs.”
Read added: “I don’t think anyone else is really in with a chance of the clubs that need halves. Maybe Canberra, but Canberra aren’t going to go with Jarome Luai. He just doesn’t fit their club.
"The Dragons are not interested and that’s about it really. Canterbury are interesting right because obviously Matt Burton has been unconvincing. There is a lot of people who think Matt Burton is a world class centre and not necessarily a world class No.6 or No.7, so they are in dire need of a half.”
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