Jarome Luai is the centre of contract speculation in the NRL world over who he will join on a mega-deal, but another club appears to have entered the race late in the game. Luai appeared to be edging towards a move away from the Panthers with the Wests Tigers set to table him an eye-watering $4.5 million deal over four years.
Luai is arguably the biggest star on the open market and has been continually linked to the Tigers. The Panthers, who have won three straight premierships, have reportedly offered a two-year contract extension worth $1.7 million for the five-eighth.
However, Luai could be ready to seek more money with the Wests Tigers reportedly ready to make him a $1.1 million man a season. While this number might appear unbeatable for most clubs, The Daily Telegraph reports the Bulldogs met with Luai on Wednesday in a formal meeting and they could be set to lure him to the club.
The Bulldogs are in the middle of a huge rebuild and head of football Gus Gould appears interested in Luai. The five-eighth worked with coach Cameron Ciraldo during his time at Penrith. Luai might be interested at the direction of the Bulldogs' project, however it is reported the Tigers' offer of a little more than $1.1 million a season will remain the highest bid.
This leaves Luai with the major decision having entered the open market. While the Bulldogs appear interested in Luai, Warriors forward Addin Fonua-Blake is also reportedly one of the main targets for Canterbury.
Despite the meeting with the Bulldogs and Gould, The Daily Telegraph reported Luai is leaning towards making the move to the Wests Tigers after meeting with coach Benji Marshall. While Panthers coach Ivan Cleary is keen to keep Luai, the lack of salary cap space appears to be working against Penrith.
Wests Tigers lead race for Jarome Luai signature
Last week, The Daily Telegraph’s Dave Riccio spoke on SEN radio about the influence Marshall has had around negotiations for the NSW and Samoa Test star. “Benji Marshall, in his ability to woo and sell the dream to Luai... At a recent house visit to Benji’s place made by Luai, a deal is now starting to gain some traction," Riccio said. "Marshall has taken a keen interest in the five-eighth.
“Let’s not forget the relationship of Api Koroisau and Charlie Staines, who are both former Panthers.” Fox League's James Hooper has also mentioned Luai's close friendship with Koroisau as a major factor around his potential switch, with the league reporter saying he's heard "major rumblings" the Tigers were readying themselves for a major move.
The Bulldogs are also said to be keen on snaring Luai, with a number of former Panthers teammates already at Canterbury. Stephen Crichton, Viliame Kikau and Matt Burton have all moved across to the Bulldogs in recent years after becoming stars at the Panthers.
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.