Nathan Cleary has spoken publicly for the first time about Jarome Luai's decision to join the Wests Tigers. Cleary and Luai have led the Penrith Panthers to three consecutive premierships, but Luai will head to the Tigers in 2025.
The five-eighth's new deal is thought to be worth $6 million over five years - an offer that proved too good to refuse. Due to the salary cap squeeze that the Panthers' success has created, they could only offer Luai about $1.7 million for two more years.
The 27-year-old has three young kids and couldn't ignore the extra $4.3 million he could provide to his family. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday, Cleary confirmed that Luai's family played heavily on his decision.
"I've played alongside 'Romy' my whole Penrith career, since we were 15 years old, which makes it even tougher," he said. "It's sad. It's also a business, and he needs to look after his beautiful young family. He had so many people in his ear asking him what he was going to do, so I didn't want to be that guy asking.
"He's also at that stage of his career where he can make decisions for himself. We all found out at the same time that he was leaving. I never could have pictured Romy in another jersey. Now he's secured his future, we can focus on this year and try to make it special ... it's my last ride with him."
Cleary conceded that players leaving was part and parcel of the Panthers' overwhelming success, due mostly to salary cap restrictions and players earning pay rises. The Panthers have lost big-name stars like Matt Burton, Viliame Kikau, Stephen Crichton, Api Koroisau and Spencer Leniu in recent years.
Jarome Luai keen to step out of Nathan Cleary's shadow
In confirming his decision to join the Tigers last month, Luai admitted that money was a huge motivator. But he also revealed his desire to step out of Cleary's shadow and be the main man at a club.
Cleary and Luai have enjoyed premiership and State of Origin success together, but Cleary has always been the No.1 playmaker. Panthers coach Ivan Cleary even pointed out that fact in an apparent attempt to scare rival clubs off Luai last year.
"People think it would just be (money), but it was getting the keys to the team, that was the other motivation," he said. Luai said he has been hungry for more responsibility since serving as the chief playmaker during Samoa's charge to the World Cup final in 2022. "Ever since then, I've longed for that," he added. "Being my own guy, writing my own story, was another big part of (the move). I can't wait."
Luai also responded to his coach's comments, saying: "It did shock me a bit. But he's not lying. It is motivating. I think anyone saying ill about me motivates me. I've always had that edge and that chip on my shoulder. I've always been that kind of kid to prove people wrong."
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