Ivan Cleary has given some insight into what star five-eighth Jarome Luai's future could be as the 28-year-old comes off his NRL contract in 2024. Luai has parted ways with his management group SFX Sports Group, reportedly costing him a $100,000 endorsement deal with electronics manufacturer JBL.
Luai is free to negotiate with rival teams from November 1, however due to his split with his former management, must wait until October to sign with a new manager. It shapes as a big off-season for the Panthers, who will also have to ink new deals for the likes of Dylan Edwards and Liam Martin.
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According to Channel 9 NRL reporter Danny Weidler, who broke news of Luai's split with his management team, the five-eighth could attract a deal worth up to $1 million a season. A move to the Canterbury Bulldogs has also been flagged by Weidler, which would see him reunite with former Panthers assistant Cameron Ciraldo, who Luai has held a close relationship with in the past.
While Cleary has admitted Luai's impending change of management as complicated the talks for a potential contract extension, he was bullish about the two-time premiership winner's prospects of remaining with the Panthers. He said the club had made it clear in no uncertain terms that it would be their preference for him to stay.
“I want him to stay here, he wants to stay,” Cleary said. “But it is a little bit tricky because if he has done that, if he’s leaving his management, there’s a period where you can’t actually do anything.
“But he knows what we think of him, and I know how much he loves the place. He’s part of our team, he’s a local boy. It’s not just how he plays, it is how he connects our team and we definitely want him here long-term.”
Revitalised Panthers inflict further pain on ailing Bulldogs
Luai was one of a number of inclusions for Penrith over the weekend as they inflicted a 44-18 demolition job on the Bulldogs, whose uninspiring season went from bad to worse. In their past five games, the Bulldogs have conceded 234 points - only two fewer than the Panthers have all season.
As close to full-strength as they have been all season, Penrith inflicted the bulk of the damage in the opening exchanges, running in 28 unanswered points to put the game beyond doubt after half an hour.
"It was just good to have the whole gang back together," Cleary said. "I'm looking forward to the next few weeks. We should hopefully get a bit better but we did a lot right today."
The only sour note for the Panthers was a suspected medial cruciate ligament injury to Spencer Leniu that forced the interchange prop from the field. "I don't think it's too bad but it was bad enough for him not to come out in the second half. We'll know more about that tomorrow," Cleary said.
The win saw the reigning premiers regain the top spot on the ladder from Brisbane. Centre Izack Tago was a late withdrawal with a leg complaint but Cleary did not believe the issue was serious.
Nathan Cleary showed no signs of the hamstring injury that had kept him out since round 14 and was his busy self on return. He ran the line that led to the first of Brian To'o's two tries, then swung left to give the Panthers the overlap that confirmed a double for Tyrone Peachey.
In the second half, a beautiful flat ball from Cleary sent Luke Garner over on the right for his first try as a Panther. "There was a bit of rust in some of the stuff he did today. But he played well," Cleary said of his son.
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