Jarome Luai's emphatic statement after 'back-up singer' swipe from Andrew Johns

The Penrith Panthers half played a blinder as the back-to-back premiers took down the Sharks.

Jarome Luai in action for the Panthers ahainst the Sharks.
Jarome Luai was on fire as the Panthers thrashed the Sharks. Image: Getty/Fox League

Jarome Luai had the perfect response on Saturday night after Andrew Johns labelled him a 'back-up singer' at Penrith who wouldn't draw big money offers from the top clubs in the NRL. Luai is at the centre of an unfortunate salary cap squeeze at the Panthers and will likely draw much bigger money at a rival club.

Luai is coming off contract at the end of 2024, but looks likely to cop a big pay cut if he wants to stay at the Panthers. The back-to-back premiers locked up Liam Martin and Dylan Edwards on big contract extensions recently, leaving little money to keep Luai due to salary cap restraints.

ROUND 22 WRAP: Newcastle and Melbourne plunged into ugly dramas

'SAD TO HEAR': NRL world reacts to awful news about Wally Lewis

The State of Origin half will likely draw million-dollar offers if he hits the open market come November 1. But Johns said last week that he'd only get that kind of money from a desperate club at the bottom of the ladder.

"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. "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."

Whether or not Luai heard Johns' comments remains to be seen, but he certainly played like a man with a chip on his shoulder against the Sharks on Saturday. The five-eighth scored a try and recorded 12 tackle breaks as he ran for 116 metres against a Cronulla side in free-fall.

Speaking after the game, Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said Luai had a fire lit under him by his axing from the NSW side for State of Origin III. “Maybe it was the demotion from Origin, not that it is anything to be ashamed of,” Cleary said.

“Cody Walker going in there and doing a great job, and obviously Cody is a great player and it has happened to him too. And I just think it, it didn’t give him a kick in the bum, but he just sort of he realised he needed to add a few things to his game and pick it up a bit.

“He’s certainly done that, we love him here and he makes so much difference to us. It’s nice to see him and Nat (Cleary) back together again.”

Dylan Edwards and Jarome Luai.
Dylan Edwards embraces Jarome Luai during Penrith's win over Cronulla. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

Ivan Cleary believes Jarome Luai wants to stay at Penrith

Luai was one of many stars for the Panthers as they ran out 28-0 winners to further cast doubt over the Sharks' finals credentials. But there also remains some doubt about whether Luai will still be a Panthers player come 2024.

In a bizarre turn of events, Luai recently parted ways with his management company SFX Sports Group, which has reportedly cost him a $100,000 endorsement deal with electronics manufacturer JBL. It also 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 last week's win over the Bulldogs, coach Cleary revealed Luai wants to stay at Penrith. “I want him to stay here, he wants to stay,” he 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.”

Reports have emerged in recent days that the Panthers are confident they can afford to keep Luai. But he may need to take a hefty pay cut if he wants to remain at the foot of the mountains. Either way, fans were impressed with his performance on Saturday night - particularly in the face of the off-field uncertainty.

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.