The NRL is set to introduce a groundbreaking new player transfer policy that could have direct implications for star players such as Jarome Luai. The two-time premiership-winning Panthers No.6 is off contract at the end of next season, meaning he's free to negotiate with rival clubs from November 1.
Luai's contract situation at Penrith has been a topic of hot discussion after the defending premiers extended fullback Dylan Edwards on a new four-year contract extension reportedly worth $850,000 per year. It's led to concerns Luai could be pushed out at Penrith due to salary cap constraints, despite coach Ivan Cleary insisting he wants the playmaker to stay at the club.
'GET F***ED': Kalyn Ponga weighs in amid Willie Mason swipe
The live-wire five-eighth could realistically command close to or even upwards of $1 million per season at a rival club, with elite playmakers a rare commodity in the game. As part of a new "last right of negotiation" clause implemented to the transfer system - part of the recently brokered collective bargaining agreement - players like Luai will now be obliged to inform their clubs of any rivals offer.
The new policy change means if a formal offer has been tabled by another club, no player can leave their current team for a rival club without giving notice they have received an offer that they intend to accept. Previously, players could sign with rivals from November (one year out from their deal expiring) and would not need to inform their current club.
Under the new system, clubs will have 10 days from when they are informed about the rival offer to table their own deal and try to convince the player to stay, or allow them to leave. The player is not required to disclose the financial terms of the rival club's offer as part of the negotiations, nor are they compelled to accept the current club's offer if it matches the rival's.
After 10 days, the player is able to sign with the rival club as originally intended if the current club does not convince them to stay put. Only then will the new contract be registered by the NRL. Other high-profile stars who are free to negotiate with rivals from November 1 include Bradman Best, Jai Arrow and Moeaki Fotuaika.
The new policy could prompt transfer backflips similar to that of Manly captain Daly Cherry-Evans, who famously reneged on a handshake agreement to a big-money move to Gold Coast in 2015. He instead re-signed with Manly long-term and is set to finish his career at the Sea Eagles.
Penrith hope to fit Jarome Luai under salary cap
The situation with Luai is set to be particularly intriguing, amid reports the Panthers are only likely to be able to offer Luai between $700,000 - $800,000 per season. The salary cap situation at the Panthers is already stretched by the number of stars on big-money deals, including Nathan Cleary (approximately $1.3 million per year), James Fisher-Harris ($950,000), Edwards ($850,000), Isaah Yeo ($850,000) and Liam Martin ($750,000).
NRL immortal Andrew Johns has already gone on record to suggest that Luai could attract offers of more than $1 million per season on the open market. “Jarome’s got a young family so you can totally understand it but if Jarome goes on the open market he’s getting a million dollars,” Johns said on Nine’s Immortal Behaviour podcast.
“Over five years you’re talking near two million dollars [extra than the Panthers deal], you can’t stay for that. That’s going to be the big story moving forward.”
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary believes the club is in a situation to keep Luai along with the rest of his star-studded squad. "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."
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.