Jarome Luai responds to Ivan Cleary's dig amid Wests Tigers announcement

Panthers star Jarome Luai has announced his decision to officially take up a deal with the Wests Tigers from 2025.

Pictured left Jarome Luai and right Ivan Cleary
Jarome Luai said Ivan Cleary's remarks warning the Wests Tigers of the him was a shock but said he wasn't totally wrong. Image: Getty

Jarome Luai has ended months of speculation about his future, announcing that he has signed a five-year deal with Wests Tigers. The Panthers star called a sudden press conference on Wednesday to reveal he had penned a deal reportedly worth more than $6 million.

Luai's relationship with the Panthers took an ugly turn last month when reports emerged of simmering tensions between the player and the NRL club, leading to his extended absence from training. After the dust settled Luai revealed he had every intention of fulfilling the final year of his contract at the foot of the mountain.

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At Wednesday's press conference, the crafty playmaker also responded to a dig made by Ivan Cleary as a move away from the Panthers edged ever closer. In November, the Panthers coach suggested he was a "risk" for any club to take on.

"Is he ready for that? (be a team's main playmaker)" Cleary said. "That’s a question mark I would think. Can he do it? I’m sure he could do it. Has he done it? He hasn’t really. In this team, he has his role to play. That’s a risk everyone would have to take."

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 02: Jarome Luai of the Panthers and Panthers coach Ivan Cleary embrace as they celebrat victory in the 2022 NRL Grand Final match between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels at Accor Stadium on October 02, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Luai's relationship with the Panthers took an ugly turn last month when reports emerged of simmering tensions between the player and the club, leading to his absence from training. Image: Getty

Luai admitted to being blindsided by Cleary's comments but said he didn't consider his remarks to be unfounded. "It did shock me a bit, but he’s not lying," Luai said.

"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. I haven’t proven it on the biggest stage yet.”

Benji Marshall excited to have Jarome Luai at the Wests Tigers

Benji Marshall said in a statement following Luai's announcement that he is a great footballer but an even better person. "We are super excited to announce the signing of Jarome for the 2025 season on a five-year deal," Marshall said.

"His experience as a genuine premiership-winning playmaker will be great for us and the future of our club. We love the way Jarome plays his footy and even better, he is a great person. We very much look forward to welcoming Jarome and his family to our club in 2025, but right now, season 2024 is our focus.”

Jarome Luai's decision down to family and relationship with Benji Marshall

Luai had long spoken about how his decision to stay at the Panthers or leave the club would ultimately come down to family or success, with the former evidently holding more weight. The playmaker said his call to leave the foot of the mountain was so he could create a better life for his family and support his three children and his now fiance Bailey Paris Toleafoa. But the Panthers star said his connection with Marshall also played a vital part.

“The obvious reason was that it was a great opportunity to provide for my family but also to create something for myself,” Luai said. “I’ve had a great connection with Benji and we spoke about the future and what he sees in me moving forward.

“My first game of rugby league was that grand final. I was on a camping trip with my family and I got to see him do his thing out there and that inspired me. Ever since that point, I’ve had one Tigers towel and I wouldn’t let my mum wash it. I’ve always been a big fan of Benji and the way that he holds himself. I got the opportunity to chuck the boots on with him in the Maori camp and I actually got to room with him which was pretty cool.”

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