Andrew Johns' truth bomb for Jarome Luai amid Panthers salary cap squeeze

The rugby league Immortal has weighed in on the situation at the Penrith Panthers.

Andrew Johns alongside Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai.
Andrew Johns doesn't think Jarome Luai will get big money at one of the NRL's top clubs. Image: Getty

Andrew Johns has described Jarome Luai as a 'back-up singer' at the Panthers and questioned whether any of the NRL's top teams would offer him big money. Luai looks set to become a victim of Penrith's success when his contract expires at the end of 2024, with the back-to-back premiership winner likely to face a big pay cut if he wants to stay at the club.

The Panthers re-signed back-rower Liam Martin this week, while fullback Dylan Edwards has reportedly agreed to extend his time at the club for $950,000 per year. It means Luai, who many believe will command $1 million per season on the open market, will probably only get a portion of that at the Panthers due to the salary cap.

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With the Panthers developing a number of their local juniors into representative players, they haven't been able to fit them all under their salary cap come re-signing time. Api Koroisau was forced to move to the Wests Tigers this year, while Viliame Kikau is now at the Bulldogs and will be joined by Stephen Crichton next year.

Discussing the situation with Luai this week, rugby league Immortal Johns asked whether the five-eighth would prefer to sign a big-money deal at one of the NRL's bottom clubs, or stay at the powerhouse Panthers on a cut-price deal. However he suggested he would only get big money at a struggling club like the Tigers or Bulldogs.

"I think Jarome is a back-up singer, he's not a main playmaker… he's not an organising half," Johns said on Wide World of Sports' 'Freddy and the Eighth' podcast. "If I valued Jarome, I would be up around $600,000, $700,000 a year.

"If he went on the open market he would get a million dollars because there are limited halves in the game… so he has got to make the decision. It would be up to 300 grand a year [pay difference]. In today's market who's looking to buy Jarome - It's the teams outside the eight."

Jarome Luai.
Jarome Luai looks on before a game for the Penrith Panthers. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Ivan Cleary says Jarome Luai wants to stay at Penrith

Complicating things for Luai is the fact he recently parted ways with his management company SFX Sports Group. The decision reportedly cost him a $100,000 endorsement deal with electronics manufacturer JBL and means he must wait until October to sign with a new manager, just weeks before the NRL's signing window opens on November 1.

Speaking after Penrith's win over the Bulldogs last week, coach Ivan Cleary said Luai wants to stay at the foot of the mountains. “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.”

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