Wests Tigers coach Benji Marshall says his side "won’t talk about" star signing Jarome Luai throughout the 2024 season, after insisting it's "disrespectful" to the current playing group. The Tigers ended weeks of speculation at the start of the new year after announcing Luai had agreed to join the club from 2025 on a five-year deal reportedly worth $6 million.
The announcement put an end to the biggest contract saga in the NRL off-season and provided Marshall with some serious star power as he plots a way to end the Tigers' long finals drought. While the signature of Penrith's three-time premiership winner is a massive coup for the club, the reality is they won't be able to call on the 27-year-old's services in 2024, as the Tigers looks to avoid a third straight wooden spoon.
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It's a fact not lost on Marshall, who admitted to News Corp's Brent Read that while Luai is going to be a "massive part" of what the club does in the future, it's the present that the rookie head coach is interested in. Marshall has all but banished talk about Luai ahead of the upcoming season and has called on his playing group to show the passion and commitment necessary to reverse the club's fortunes.
“I want a team that competes on every play and wants to win every game. That is the type of team we want to be. As much as Jarome is a great signing for the future of our club, we won’t talk about him this year at all, Marshall told News Corp. “I think it is disrespectful to the players we have now to worry about that and it is also disrespectful to Penrith to bring him into it.”
Marshall is not afraid to turn to his youngsters and has revealed that 18-year-old Lachlan Galvin is "in the mix" to make his NRL debut in the halves in 2024. With Luai set to slot straight into one of the playmaking roles in 2025, it's set up a fierce competition in the halves for the Tigers in 2024, with recruits Jayden Sullivan and Aidan Sezer expected to start the season in the No.6 and No.7 jerseys, respectively. The Tigers also signed former Manly young gun Latu Fainu as another halves option, setting up an intriguing battle to see who will partner Luai in 2025.
Tigers fan favourite David Nofoaluma leaves club
The Tigers coach also spoke about the bombshell departure of fan favourite and former teammate, David Nofoaluma, who was sensationally let go by the club last week. The 30-year-old had reportedly been handed two breach notices within the space of a month after he “failed to adhere to club protocols when it comes to missing training due to illness”.
The winger is said to have told a club official that he wouldn't be at training due to a bout of gastro, with club officials failing in attempts to contact him in the 48 hours that followed. Nofoaluma also angered officials at pre-season training in December. It's understood the winger was struggling at training with his fitness and recorded a below-par time-trial result.
Marshall admitted that Nofoaluma had "spilt a lot of blood, sweat and tears" for the club but stressed that it was in the best interests of both the player and the club to part ways. The rookie Tigers coach ultimately decided it was time for a "fresh start" for his former teammate. “We both agreed that was the right thing for him. We wish him all the best," Marshall added.
Nofoaluma reportedly took a $300,000 payout to part ways with the Tigers early. Despite being the club's all-time leading try-scorer, the 30-year-old's form has been patchy over the last couple of seasons and he was loaned to the Melbourne Storm towards the end of the 2022 season, where he shone after experiencing finals footy for the first time.
"We thank David for all that he has given to this club over the past decade," Tigers CEO Shane Richardson said last week after the winger's exit from the club was confirmed. "We wish David all the very best with his future."
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