Cash for Cats: Luai at ease with cap juggle as Edwards’ pay-day looms

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Penrith star Jarome Luai has backed teammate Dylan Edwards to almost double his wage as the club juggles delicate multi-million dollar contract talks with two of their most important players.

Edwards’ management and the club have begun preliminary negotiations that have him in line for a mammoth pay day that reflects his standing as arguably the NRL’s most improved and best-value player.

Last year’s Clive Churchill medallist earns around the $500,000 mark on his current deal, and is expected to land an upgrade on his 2024 contract with another two- or three-year extension likely beyond that.

Panthers officials are well aware Edwards’ market value could push toward the $1 million mark if he hits the market from November 1, while Luai is also a free agent in six months’ time as a two-time premiership-winning, NSW Origin half.

A difficult balancing act looms should either star test the open market.

Luai is on an estimated $750,000 after knocking back interest from South Sydney and Canterbury years ago while biding his time in Penrith’s lower grades.

Dylan Edwards during his Clive Churchill medal-winning performance in last year’s grand final.Credit: Getty

Both he and Edwards are products of Penrith’s vaunted juniors system and could well take a slight haircut if it means staying with teammates they’ve known their whole career, with Luai speaking in glowing terms of his No.1.

Asked if the club could fit both he and Edwards into their cap, Luai said: “Yeah I reckon they can. Dyl’s one of our best players. Not just this week or that week, but consistently on a week-to-week basis, he’s always up there.

“Just look at his numbers and what he puts up. He’s vocal and his leadership is very important to our team.

“This is our home. We’ve been here ever since we’ve come in [to NRL]. We haven’t got too far into the chats at the moment, but hopefully I can let you know in a couple of months.

Contract year: Star Penrith duo Jarome Luai and Dylan Edwards.Credit: NRL Photos

“I’ve still got [18 months] to go and we’re still early in the year. I’ve got to play well and hopefully they re-sign me.”

Never one to talk himself up, Edwards dismissed suggestions he could be a Blues Origin bolter ahead of Friday’s clash with state skipper James Tedesco.

Edwards is sitting fifth in the Dally M voting with 20 points this year, just behind teammate Nathan Cleary (21 points), but said the only time his contract value crosses his mind is when raised by journalists with a microphone in front of him.

“I’m doing a job for my side, I know I’m valued in this area here, that’s more than I can ask for there,” Edwards said.

“I’m here for this year and next year. I love this place, it’s home. If [contract talks] are bubbling away that’s always a good sign.

“I wouldn’t want to [play anywhere else] but rugby league’s a funny game. You never really know but ideally if I have my way I’ll be staying here a while.”

Penrith have farewelled a slew of premiership winners in recent years, with Stephen Crichton (Bulldogs) and Spencer Leniu (Roosters) next year joining Api Koroisau, Viliame Kikau, Matt Burton and Kurt Capewell in departing the club.

Co-captain Isaah Yeo re-signed until the end of 2027 earlier this year, joining Nathan Cleary, Moses Leota and Brian To’o as the longest-contracted Panthers players, all of whom were extended before they could go to market.

World Cup back-rower Liam Martin has a two-year contract on the table as well after being upgraded last year, while James Fisher-Harris and highly rated youngsters Jesse McLean and Jack Cole are all on the books until the end of 2026.

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