I was 18, just about to finish high school, when I had my first Jarome Luai-esque moment.
A life choice: go to university as planned to study journalism, or take a gig that had been offered to me already as a result of a hobby that was annoying to the big players.
The money was vastly different to what Luai is currently pondering. In fact, I ended up taking the gig and netted $22,500 per annum for my trouble. I thought I was rich.
I’ll never know what would have happened had I taken the other option.
That’s what these sliding doors moments in life are all about.
In the mid-80s, my parents had a choice between moving to Penrith or Campbelltown. They chose Penrith.
What would have happened if they didn’t? You probably wouldn’t be reading this column and who knows, maybe I would have purchased a winning Powerball ticket at a local newsagency in Campbelltown and I’d be living on an island sipping Margaritas right now.
We have all faced these choices – in work and in life – that send us on different paths.
And it is why there is no right or wrong choice for Jarome Luai at present.
Just a fork in the road.
Luai is contracted to Penrith until the end of next season but is now on the open market and can talk to other clubs about a move from 2025.
The Panthers are willing to offer him around $850,000 per year. Other clubs will likely go above $1 million.
And not surprisingly, every man and his dog wants to tell Luai what to do.
Journalists, analysts, fans, his coach. The list goes on.
You can’t blame the media for obsessing over the Luai story. He generates clicks and sells newspapers. You can’t get angry at media organisations for listening to their readers and delivering content they want to read.
But none of them are relevant.
Not a single word.
If you don’t know that Jarome Luai is his own man by now, who rarely listens to outside noise, you may as well give up.
Those who believe Luai is an unproven game manager are right. That opportunity has not and will not present itself at Penrith while Nathan Cleary is wearing the number seven jersey.
But that doesn’t mean Luai couldn’t do it. That doesn’t mean that he couldn’t prove every cent of what another club is willing to pay him.
Proving doubters wrong is what Luai does best.
It’s also true that Luai is a born Panther. Came through the junior system, plays with some of his best mates, and is Penrith through and through. He thrives in this environment, and nobody disagrees that this is his comfort zone.
But being out of your comfort zone is also something that is in Luai’s DNA.
It really matters little if Luai bleeds Penrith and has bought a house in South Penrith, or plays alongside his mates. They are minor pieces to the puzzle. This is a job at the end of the day – the mates and the house will still be there. Go somewhere else and there’s probably another couple of houses too.
The rugby league world is currently obsessing over Luai’s next move.
I doubt Luai is.
He is in the box seat here, and he’ll ultimately make a decision that he deems best for him and his family.
My take, for what it’s worth (which by the way, is very little)?
I’m comfortable with whatever happens.
I’m proud that Penrith has developed a recruitment and retention system that does not pay overs, no matter what your name is. The team will survive with or without Luai, and the next man up mentality will see the side through.
Those critical of the club’s stance were the same ones who wanted to find a way to keep the likes of Viliame Kikau, Api Koroisau and Matt Burton. It would have been nice, but the club’s position on money and salary cap management was proven right when it went on to win the next year’s Premiership despite the loss of those players.
If Luai stays, I’m proud of him and the sacrifice he’s made for the emblem on his chest. It would be the ultimate move and show of loyalty.
But if he goes, you can’t blame him. You’d likely do the same thing.
This will indeed be a sliding doors moment, for both Luai and Penrith. And yes, you may get a glimpse of what the other decision would have delivered, but only a glimpse. We will never really know the result of the other path.
After all, who says Luai doesn’t start to get stale and unmotivated, weighed down by three Premiership rings on his fingers.
Conversely, the best couple of years of his career could be ahead of him. This is the gamble both parties take in sport.
Time will tell, but one thing will never change: Luai was involved in a Premiership three-peat that will make him a Panther for life, even if he does wear another club’s jersey for a chunk of his career.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.