‘Under no circumstances’: No early release for Luai as halves market dwindles again

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Penrith CEO Brian Fletcher has dismissed any suggestion star five-eighth Jarome Luai will be granted an early release to join the Wests Tigers.

Luai’s decision to skip Panthers training on Monday amid tensions over his impending move to Concord on a five-year, $6 million deal at the end of 2024 had raised talk of an immediate transfer being pursued.

Luai has not requested a release after telling teammates of his looming departure on Saturday, and it is unclear whether Luai attended training on Tuesday.

Club officials were tight-lipped on the drama that ensued when his representatives told Penrith he needed time away from the club this week.

Players are on Christmas break from Wednesday but there is a firm expectation Luai – who is still nursing his shoulder after surgery – will join his teammates when they return to full-time training in the first week of January.

Jarome Luai leaves Panthers training after telling teammates 2024 will be his last season at the club.Credit: Steven Siewert

Fletcher insisted there was no chance of Luai being farewelled early, pointing to the way stars Matt Burton, Viliame Kikau, Stephen Crichton and Api Koroisau had all seen out the final year of the Penrith contracts, finishing their tenures with premierships in the process.

“Fortunately for Jarome, and we’re very happy for him, he’s secured a massive contract and a long-term contract which is good, so he’s got the blessing of the club,” Fletcher told Nine News.

“It’s just a pity that the cap forces these good players out eventually when you’re having the success we’re having. We love him to death and we need him to play here next year.

“All the speculation is rubbish. He’ll be playing for Panthers, and hopefully we’ll be going on to try and win another premiership with him.

“He will be playing here. We haven’t released any players before, and under no circumstances will Jarome be going anywhere for 2024. After that, we just wish him and his family all the best.”

While the finishing touches to the Tigers contract – which will make Luai one of the highest-paid players in the game – are being put together by the club and his management, the Bulldogs continue to monitor the situation.

Canterbury have verbally put forth their own five-year deal for Luai. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Panthers had yet to receive formal notice of Luai’s intention to sign with a rival club.

The NRL’s new rules give Penrith a 10-day period to make a counteroffer, but the club is expected to waive that right given it cannot compete with the money offered elsewhere.

The Panthers have other moving pieces in their salary cap – chiefly off-contract youngsters Sunia Turuva, Taylan May and hooker Mitch Kenny – but there is no desire to free up salary cap space by releasing Luai early.

Panthers players form a huddle for Jarome Luai at training on Saturday as he informs them of his decision to leave.Credit: Channel Nine

The NRL’s already sparse halves market dwindled further with news rising Cowboys star Tom Dearden would be staying in North Queensland until the end of 2029.

Dearden had initially held fire when tabled a three-year extension worth around $700,000-a-season, before the Cowboys added an extra two seasons to their offer.

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