Andrew Johns’ brutal two-word reality check for unsigned Panther Jarome Luai


Two-time reigning NRL premiers Penrith have already lost some top talent due to a salary cap squeeze and the club’s popular five-eighth Jarome Luai could be next.

Luai, 26, is off contract at the end of 2024 and will reportedly test the open market from November 1.

But Immortal Andrew Johns had a brutal take on Luai’s hopes of either earning a seven-figure-per-season contract or continuing his career with a premiership contender.

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With the Panthers enjoying an era of unprecedented success, having the rare chance to win a third straight title this season, the values of their players have naturally risen with it.

That means they have a choice to make, either take a pay cut to stay with a winning team or leave for a bigger deal elsewhere.

Api Koroisau (Wests Tigers), Viliame Kikau (Bulldogs) and Stephen Crichton (Bulldogs in 2024) have already been squeezed out, while Liam Martin and Dylan Edwards are among the Panthers that are staying put on improved deals.

So where does that leave Luai?

Johns doesn’t value him as a main playmaker and said his only real hope of a big contract would be at one of the competition’s cellar-dwellers.

“I think Jarome is a back-up singer, he’s not a main playmaker,” Johns said on Wide World of Sports’ ‘Freddy and the Eighth’ podcast.

“He’s not an organising half.

“If I valued Jarome, I would be up around $600,000, $700,000 a year.

“If he went on the open market he would get a million dollars because there are limited halves in the game, so he has got to make the decision.

“It would be up to 300 grand a year (difference). In today’s market who’s looking to buy Jarome? It’s the teams outside the eight.”

From the Panthers side of things, coach Ivan Cleary says he has no issues if any of his players want to leave to earn more money.

But he believes the chance to win more premierships and be happy at a successful club is a pretty good reason to stay.

“I think there are plenty of stories of people who leave for money, which is fine, but at the end of the day I think your happiness, a good culture and winning are pretty cool,” Cleary said.

“That’s hopefully an enticing factor.

“The fact is these guys can probably get more money elsewhere, but we still feel like we can pay them what they’re worth and let them have an enjoyable experience.”

Nathan Cleary, Isaah Yeo, Brian To’o and Moses Leota are signed through until 2027.

Convincing Luai to join that stable on reduced money could prove difficult, but Cleary does seem to like their chances.

“’Romey’ is one that we definitely want to keep and we know he wants to stay here,” he said.

“It’s not something that we’re just going to do in quick time. It’s going to be a bit of a process to make sure it all works out.

“It hasn’t been easy with any signing that we’ve had in the last 12 months.

“All our boys’ values are going up and that’s a credit to them and the club as well. We’re trying our best to keep a certain core of this team.

“We’re still sad about the guys that are leaving, but that’s unfortunate and it happens sometimes.”


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