Jarome Luai's links to Benji Marshall's Wests Tigers refuse to go away, with Fox League reporter James Hooper claiming the joint-venture outfit are preparing to make a huge play for the three-time NRL premiership winner. Luai is still contracted to the Panthers until the end of next season but as of November 1 became free to speak to rival clubs for a deal beyond 2024.
The Penrith and NSW playmaker has continually been touted as a big-money signing for the Tigers, who reportedly have space in their salary cap to launch an audacious bid for the 26-year-old. The Panthers are understood to have told Luai they can only offer him around $850,000 per season, with the five-eighth likely to be able to command upwards of $1 million-a-season elsewhere.
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Luai has been linked to the Tigers due to the fact he grew up idolising Marshall - who will have his first full season in charge of the club next season. The pair played together for the Maori All-Stars at the end of Marshall's career and struck up a friendship after rooming together.
Marshall was keen to hose down his club's links to Luai earlier this month after pointing to the fact the Tigers have made a number of halves signings - bringing in Jayden Sullivan from the Dragons and Aidan Sezer from the UK. The Tigers also signed young Manly half Latu Fainu as well as his brother Samuela, and injured playmaker Adam Doeui is still on the books despite the fact he'll be sidelined for a large chunk of 2024.
"One thing I'm not going to do is talk about recruitment publicly," Marshall said earlier this month. "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."
Api Korisau could be key to Jarome Luai signing
Despite those comments from Marshall, Fox League's Hooper says there are "major rumblings" that the Tigers are readying themselves for a huge bid to land the 26-year-old. Hooper pointed to Luai's close friendship with Tigers captain Api Korisau - who he won two premierships with at Penrith - as another key factor that could work in the Tigers' favour.
Luai's adlib and dynamic style of footy certainly 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 an NRL finals drought in 2024 that has stretched on for more than a decade.
The Bulldogs are also said to be keen on snaring Luai, who would join a number of former Panthers players 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.
Luai recently split with his agent and is now under new management and his future at the Panthers has been thrown into doubt amid salary cap concerns for the premiers, who have already locked down the futures of a number of other stars on big-money deals. Last month, Penrith coach Ivan Cleary also admitted it would be a "risk' for a rival club to sign Luai as a chief playmaker considering he's never had to take on that role at Penrith alongside Nathan Cleary.
The coach's comments merely ramped up speculation Luai could be looking for a new challenge, with the playmaker responding on social media by posting 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’.
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