Premiership-winning five-eighth Jarome Luai is set to see out the remainder of his Panthers contract despite a dramatic week for the 26-year-old father of three.
Last Saturday morning, Luai announced to his teammates and coach Ivan Cleary that he would be departing the club at the end of the 2024 season to take up a rich five-year, $6 million offer at the embattled Wests Tigers.
The news sent shockwaves across the rugby league world, with many Panthers supporters disappointed at seeing one of the club’s most popular and best players leaving in the midst of a premiership dynasty.
More drama came on Monday when Luai’s representatives reportedly contacted Panthers officials to inform them that their client wouldn’t be coming to work on Monday or Tuesday.
The reason for Luai’s absence is unknown and when the Weekender asked club representatives whether the star playmaker was at Penrith’s final training session of the year on Wednesday, they did not respond.
Penrith have been tight-lipped all week regarding Luai’s impending departure.
The Weekender contacted Panthers CEO Matt Cameron on Tuesday to ask to help clean up some of the rumours surrounding the saga, but he sent his apologies and did not want to comment.
The Weekender also contacted Luai’s management company Black Money Enterprises to clarify why Luai wasn’t at training this week, but they also chose to stay quiet.
The only response the Weekender received was from a Panthers spokesperson on Wednesday who said: “At the end of the day, Jarome is contracted to the club for 2024. Yes, he has informed the club of his departure for 2025, but that’s all.”
But as it stands, 2024 is set to be Luai’s long goodbye from Penrith.
Under new NRL rules, Penrith had 10 days to counter the offer from the Wests Tigers from the moment he informed them he was departing (last Saturday).
However, it’s understood the Panthers won’t have the salary cap space to go anywhere near the dollars being offered by the desperate Tigers.
In another twist, Phil Gould and his Canterbury Bulldogs are also still in the mix for Luai’s services, however Luai would have to turn down the lucrative Tigers offer and any potential new offer from the Panthers, to be back in the race.
If it turns out Luai is off to the Tigers or Bulldogs in 2025, expect speculation over the summer to be centred around whether either club can get the St Marys junior in their colours for 2024.
Panthers officials have said on several occasions that they would not be releasing Luai from his contract early, with Panthers Group CEO Brian Fletcher doubling down on Tuesday.
“We love him to death and we need him to play here next year,” Fletcher told Nine News.
“Under no circumstances will Jarome be going anywhere for ’24.”
Penrith has a history of not releasing departing players early and that appears set to continue.
Whatever happens, one thing is certain – one club will be getting Jarome Luai under their tree on Christmas Day.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for a decade.