Penrith teammates say Jarome Luai is "training very well" and insist they haven't seen any change in his attitude at pre-season training after the playmaker opted to sign for the Wests Tigers from 2025. Luai - who will play his final season with the Panthers in 2024 before jumping ship to the Tigers - is hoping to be fit for next month’s World Club Challenge against Wigan after undergoing shoulder surgery in October.
Luai missed the Pacific Championships series for Samoa after going under the knife shortly after helping the Panthers clinch their third straight NRL premiership. The five-eighth is not expected to engage in contact work in training until closer to the start of the season but Penrith teammate Dylan Edwards says the classy No.6 is tracking well amid hopes he'll be fit in time for the World Club Challenge.
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“I’m not sure of the exact time line, but he is training very well, doing a lot of rehab and working really hard, so he is going to give himself every chance,” Edwards told The Daily Telegraph. “We would love to send him off on a high note. He is still one of our brothers and he is going to compete as hard as he can this year, so hopefully send him off as a winner.”
Luai's contract saga had been the biggest talking point of the off-season, with the 26-year-old ending weeks of speculation at the end of December by revealing he'd signed a five-year deal with the Tigers from 2025. The contract is reportedly worth around $6 million over the five years.
Teammates want to send Jarome Luai out a winner
After news of his move from the Panthers became public, Luai took a week off before Christmas, before returning to pre-season training with his teammates in the new year. The playmaker admitted it had been a "tough process" to decide to move on from his boyhood club after winning three premierships with the Panthers, but teammate Sunia Turuva said Luai seemed like his regular self after re-joining the squad, who are determined to send the five-eighth out a winner.
“He has still been his loud self and been the pest he is. I personally haven’t seen anything different from Jarome this year,” Turuva said. “The boys would love that for him, we just gotta try and make sure we finish on a good note for him, like we did for Spenny (Spencer Leniu), Critta (Stephen Crichton) and Cogs (Jack Cogger).”
Salary cap pressure leads to exodus of stars at Penrith
Leniu (Roosters), Crichton (Bulldogs) and Cogger (Knights) have all moved on from Penrith after their most recent premiership success in 2023, as the salary cap squeeze takes effect at the club. Last week, talented young edge forward Zac Hosking became the latest player to leave the Panthers after being granted an immediate release to join the Canberra Raiders. The back-rower had one more year remaining on his deal, but Panthers chief executive Matt Cameron admitted the club would struggle to keep hold of him amid interest and bigger offers from rival clubs.
The cap squeeze at the Panthers led to suggestions that Penrith could free up some space by allowing Luai to join the Tigers earlier than 2025. However, the five-eighth said it was a move he never really considered after reaffirming his commitment to Penrith ahead of the 2024 season.
"I've got so much respect for my club and too much love for my home town," Luai said. "I can't wait for this year, hopefully we can do something special and make it a fourth year. I love the club, I love the place, it'll always have a spot in my heart."
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