Benji Marshall's 'secret' meeting with Jarome Luai that could backfire on Tigers

The Wests Tigers are said to be preparing a huge offer to lure the Penrith Panthers five-eighth.

Benji Marshall, pictured here alongside Jarome Luai and his family.
Benji Marshall made a 'secret' visit to Jarome Luai's family home. Image: Getty/Instagram

Aaron Woods has warned the Wests Tigers that constant leaks to the media might turn Jarome Luai off signing with the joint-venture club. Luai is officially a free agent for 2025 and could look to move away from the Penrith Panthers after the 2024 season.

The Panthers have reportedly tabled a two-year, $1.7 million contract extension to the five-eighth, with salary cap pressure restricting how much they can afford to pay for the three-time premiership winner. In contrast, Luai is expected to draw offers in excess of $1 million per season at rival clubs like the Tigers.

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According to the Sydney Morning Herald, new Tigers coach Benji Marshall met with Luai at his family home last week to pitch to him the merits of joining the club. Luai grew up idolising Marshall and played with his hero for the Maori All-Stars at the back end of Benji's career.

But according to former Tigers player Woods, the fact that the secret meeting has come out in the media might be a red flag for Luai. The Tigers have been plagued by turmoil over the last few years and inside information is constantly leaked to the media.

“I love that Benji is being pretty proactive in trying to get these players, going out to get them but we call it a secret meeting,” Woods said on Triple M radio. “Everything at the Tigers seems to come out and it’s probably going to be on Jarome Luai’s mind so it’s a funny one. But I love that Benji is out there trying to get the best players.”

According to James Hooper of Fox Sports, the Tigers are preparing to make a mega-money offer to Luai. Hooper pointed out Luai's close friendship with Tigers captain Api Koroisau - who he won two premierships with at Penrith - as another key factor that could work in the Tigers' favour.

Luai's off-the-cuff style of footy fits with how Marshall played the game during his glittering career with the Tigers. He would also add a much needed splash of class to the Tigers' spine, with the club desperate to end a finals drought that has stretched on for more than a decade.

Benji Marshall plays down Jarome Luai speculation

Discussing the situation earlier this month, Marshall moved to hose down speculation around Luai. "One thing I'm not going to do is talk about recruitment publicly," the coach told reporters. "Because it does have the effect to ruin a deal if stuff gets out or stuff gets leaked.

"All players that come into the market, you've got to have a look at, especially if they're marquee players (like Luai). But we've signed halves, we've got four halves for the season going into it. We'll prioritise that at the moment."

Jarome Luai.
Jarome Luai in action for the Penrith Panthers. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

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.

Last month, Penrith coach Ivan Cleary said it would be a "risk" to offer Luai a big money deal because he's never been the chief playmaker at Penrith. Just 24 hours later, Luai posted an anime-style image of himself on Instagram with the caption "know your worth".

The post was accompanied by the 50 Cent song 'Hustler’s Ambition' from the film 'Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. Many took it as a hint that he will prioritise more money as opposed to staying at Penrith for less in a bid to win more premierships.

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