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The Roar


'Toughest decision of my career' - Luai reveals why he's leaving Panthers to take over at Tigers on five-year mega deal

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3rd January, 2024
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Jarome Luai has confirmed that 2024 will be his final season at the Penrith Panthers, announcing he will join the Wests Tigers on a five-year, $6 million deal at a press conference on Wednesday with the lure of becoming the chief on-field playmaker his main motivation in making the move.

The talented five-eighth’s future has been the topic of much debate for several months, having been absent from training with the Panthers after informing teammates 2024 would be his final season with the club.

“[Leaving the Panthers was] probably the toughest decision of my career and probably life so far,” Luai said.

“It’s definitely gotten a lot more attention than what we would have liked these past few months.

“The purpose of this was to clear everything up and get everything out of the way out of respect and courtesy for the year ahead for my team and my teammates in 2024.”

Speculation was rife at the end of 2023 regarding the move due to the new NRL transfer laws, under which there is a ten day cooling off period to give the player’s former club time to negotiate with all parties and potentially come up with a counter offer they would like.

However, the Panthers, unable to compete with the offer, waived their right to the cooling off period, which enabled Luai to officially accept the Tigers’ deal without a delay. It was a process that surprised the talented star, with interest reportedly coming for several clubs, including the Bulldogs.


“Ever since I’ve come to market there’s been a lot of interest and it’s been a great learning curve,” Luai said.

For Luai, the motivation to head to Concord came out of a desire to further strengthen his capabilities as a marquee player and team leader, and to step out of the shadow of Penrith’s many superstars.

“The obvious reason was it was a great opportunity for me to provide and create for my family, and also to create for myself. People think it would just be (money); but it was getting the keys to the team, that was the other motivation,” he said

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

“I’ve had a great connection with Benji (Marshall), we’ve spoken about the future and what he sees in me and moving forward. I’m really excited about it.

“It is motivating [to lead a team]. I think anyone saying ill about me motivates me. I’ve always had the edge and that chip on my shoulder.”

Luai is untested at NRL level as a week-in, week-out organising half, a point made clear by Penrith coach Ivan Cleary as the Panthers fought to keep him.


But Nathan Cleary’s long-term lieutenant said he had become hungry for more responsibility since serving as a game-manager during Samoa’s charge to the World Cup final in 2022.

“Ever since then, I’ve longed for that,” he said.

“Being my own guy, writing my own story, was another big part of (the move). I can’t wait.”

Luai will reunite with a few of his former Panthers’ teammates Api Koroisau, Brent Naden, and Charlie Staines at the Tigers, as the club goes about turning around fortunes. After a decade of poor performances, change is afoot with a new coach in Marshall, and a much-publicised board clean out late last year, a move generally celebrated by fans.

The move is a much needed grab for Marshall, with the playing group in desperate need of a strong playmaker.

Luai’s halves partner for 2025 is yet to be determined with veteran Aidan Sezer and young guns Jayden Sullivan and Latu Fainu likely to jostle at the selection table.

“We are super excited to announce the signing of Jarome for the 2025 season on a five-year deal,” said Marshall in a press statement.


“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.”

Martin Luai, Jarome’s father, also spoke at the conference, and admitted he was excited for what lay ahead for his son at Wests.

“He’s always been a born leader and he’s reality excited about the opportunity to lead a team and I think it’s up to him to prove it to all those doubters”.

with AAP