The Penrith Panthers have reportedly given their blessing for Jarome Luai to hit the open market, in a move that could spark a bidding war for his services from rival NRL clubs. Luai is currently recovering from a shoulder injury that's ruled him out of Samoa's Pacific Test series, having just helped the Panthers to a third straight premiership.
The crafty 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 deal reportedly worth $850,000 per year.
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That sparked concerns Luai could be pushed out of Penrith due to salary cap constraints, despite coach Ivan Cleary insisting he wants the 26-year-old to stay at the club. Luai could realistically command around $1 million dollars or more if he hits the open market, with the Daily Telegraph reporting that Penrith are happy with the playmaker to field offers from November 1.
“Jarome is aware of the club’s salary cap capacity moving forward. He’s having surgery on Monday so our main focus at the moment is his wellbeing and recovery,” Penrith chief Matt Cameron said per the Daily Telegraph. “Jarome is contracted until the end of 2024 so we don’t see a need to rush these conversations.
“Jarome is a three-time premiership player who will obviously command interest on the open market and the Panthers have no problem with him investigating all his options moving forward.”
Under a new "last right of negotiation" clause implemented by the NRL, Luai will be obliged to inform the Panthers of any offers from rival clubs. Under the new policy, 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. If Luai were to agree on a deal to leave for a rival club, the Panthers would have 10 days from when they are informed about the rival offer to table their own deal and try to convince Luai to stay, or allow him to leave.
Luai would not be required to disclose the financial terms of the rival club's offer as part of the negotiations, nor would he be compelled to accept Penrith's offer if it matched a rival bid.
After 10 days, Luai could sign with a rival club as originally intended if the Panthers were unable to convince him to stay put. Only then would the new contract be registered by the NRL.
Jarome Luai could command more money at rival club
With Luai's contract up at the end of 2024 and a large chunk of the Panthers salary cap taken up by stars such as co-captains Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo, as well as Edwards, prop James Fisher-Harris and representative star Liam Martin, it's understood the Panthers would only be able to offer Luai around $800,000 per season. It means the five-eighth could be forsaking more than $1 million if he were to stay at Penrith, with a multi-year deal at a rival club likely to be significantly more lucrative.
Luai will reportedly undergo surgery on Monday after aggravating an existing shoulder injury with 20 minutes remaining in the thrilling grand final win over Brisbane. "It just went numb, it felt like it was hanging there a bit," Luai said of his injury.
Depending on the recovery time for his injury, Luai has a chance to enjoy a rare uninterrupted pre-season with the Panthers alongside sidelined halves partner Cleary (knee injury). "It'll be good, we haven't had one (an uninterrupted pre-season) for a long time, with the World Cup," Luai said in reference to his run to the final with Samoa in last year's global showpiece. "We'll get a bit more time now. That's better for us, better for the team. I'm excited."
Luai insisted the Panthers still had improvement in them despite becoming the first team in 40 years to win three consecutive premierships with their defeat of Brisbane. "We can always get better," he added. "That's what's great about Nath (Cleary), that's what's great about this team, we're always looking for ways to get better."
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