Jarome Luai's confession about Nathan Cleary amid $6 million move to Wests Tigers

The five-eighth has confirmed he is leaving the Penrith Panthers after the 2024 season.

Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary.
Jarome Luai is keen to step out of Nathan Cleary's shadow. Image: Getty/AAP

Jarome Luai has revealed the main reason for his decision to leave the Penrith Panthers for the Wests Tigers revolves around his desire to step out of Nathan Cleary's shadow and be the main playmaker at a team. Luai's move to the Tigers was confirmed on Wednesday, with the Panthers five-eighth signing a five-year, $6 million deal from 2025 onwards.

Discussing his decision in a press conference on Wednesday, the 26-year-old said the money wasn't the only motivator - despite the fact the Panthers could only offer around $1.6 million. Luai said he is primarily driven by the desire to lead a team after spending his entire career playing second fiddle to Cleary.

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Luai was helped the Panthers win three consecutive premierships, but always plays in the shadow of Cleary - even at State of Origin level for NSW. "People think it would just be (money), but it was getting the keys to the team, that was the other motivation," he said.

Luai said he has been hungry for more responsibility since serving as the chief playmaker during Samoa's charge to the World Cup final in 2022. "Ever since then, I've longed for that," he said. "Being my own guy, writing my own story, was another big part of (the move). I can't wait."

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary was quick to highlight the fact that Luai has never been the main man in a warning to rival clubs looking to sign him last year. On Wednesday, Luai said the comments shocked him, but he harbours no ill-will towards Cleary.

"It did shock me a bit," the five-eighth said. "But he's not lying. It is motivating. I think anyone saying ill about me motivates me. I've always had that edge and that chip on my shoulder. I've always been that kind of kid to prove people wrong."

Luai confirmed he will return to Panthers training on Thursday, having taken a week off before Christmas as news of his impending move to the Tigers became public. "I don't want to go into detail about it, but it's been a tough process," he said of the decision to take a break from training. "I've had to move away from my home and just think about that."

Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, pictured here after the NRL grand final in 2021.
Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai after the NRL grand final in 2021. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

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Luai also revealed that he hadn't informed Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo of his decision to join the Tigers. Ciraldo, a former assistant coach at Penrith, had been chasing Luai to join the Bulldogs.

"This is the phone call," Luai said. "I've got a lot brothers there (at the Bulldogs) already, and Cam Ciraldo is like my second dad. That's why the process has dragged on for quite a while ... that was a tough decision."

Tigers coach Benji Marshall is Luai's childhood hero and a similarly flamboyant five-eighth during his playing days. Luai said Marshall was influential in his decision to switch clubs.

Jarome Luai.
Jarome Luai with his child after announcing his move to the Wests Tigers. (AAP Image/Steven Saphore)

"I've had a great connection with Benji," Luai said. "I've seen a few headlines that (I will) go from the top to the bottom, that sort of thing. It resonated with me because I always back myself to win, no matter where I go. I'm really excited about it, I'm excited about the challenge."

The Panthers responded to Luai's announcement on Wednesday, saying: "As publicly stated previously, the club believes that as a three-time premiership player and international representative, Jarome has earnt the right to explore the open market. Although the club is disappointed by the outcome, it respects Jarome's choice."

with AAP

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