Penrith coach Ivan Cleary is adamant the Panthers can still keep five-eighth Jarome Luai after the club secured the services of Dylan Edwards in a long-term contract. Ahead of Penrith's opportunity to grab another minor premiership title, Edwards signed a four-year contract extension with the reigning champions.
Edwards has been one of Penrith's most consistent performers throughout their stranglehold on the NRL premiership, which has also seen him win the Clive Churchill medal in last year's grand final. There was speculation Edwards could push for a move at a rival club and negotiate a huge money deal.
Instead, the Panthers have rewarded him with a hefty pay rise to an estimated $850,000 per year, putting him on a par with the likes of Ryan Papenhuyzen and Joey Manu. The deal is a huge win for the Panthers, however, it throws up a conundrum with Luai's contact coming to an end.
The five-eighth has played seven times for New South Wales in State of Origin and has formed one of the game's strongest halves combinations with Nathan Cleary. Luai comes off contract at the end of 2024 and could also demand a boosted contract if he negotiates with rival clubs.
Although coach Cleary believes the club is in a situation to keep Luai along with the other stars. "We still feel that way," Cleary said of keeping Luai at the Panthers.
"Each one's difficult because obviously the values go up and they've got families to consider and all that. But we feel confident that we can offer Romey what he's worth. We feel that he, like Dylan, is a Panther. He belongs here. I think he knows it and we know it."
Unfortunately for the Panthers, Luai is currently sidelined after dislocating his shoulder against the loss to the Eels last week. He will miss Saturday's home game against the Cowboys, which could see the Panthers take the minor premiership.
Ivan Cleary denies Panthers shake-up ahead of Cowboys clash
The Broncos opted to field an understrength outfit against an understrength Storm outfit on Thursday night and were defeated. While the Broncos sit two points ahead of the Panthers, a win for Cleary's men would see them win the minor premiership.
NRL fans are divided on whether Cleary should be looking to rest a number of stars ahead of the finals. However, others feel the Panthers shouldn't go into the finals on the back of two losses if they were to fall against the Cowboys this weekend.
Penrith have been resting players throughout the past month in preparation for the finals and while they named a near-full strength team for the game, Izack Tago and Mitch Kenny remain sidelined. And Cleary said he would resist the urge to bring his first-choice right centre and hooker back even as a third minor premiership in four years beckons.
This is despite naming No.7 Cleary and Edwards in the starting line-up. "The fact that (the minor premiership) is back on table is quite cool," Cleary said. "There's something about finishing at the top that you should be proud of.
"(But) I don't like to change things halfway through a week. It hasn't changed anything for us."
While the Cowboys need a win to have any chance of finishing 8th in the ladder, Cleary was confident they would be facing a better Penrith side to the one handily beaten by Parramatta last week. "It was out of character," Cleary said of the 32-18 loss.
"I don't think we were prepared well enough and that's on me, for a number of reasons. I think we'll be much better tomorrow. We're still preparing to be at our best when the pressure's on. I don't think we're there yet."
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