Be careful what you wish for: Cleary’s word of warning for Luai about big-money offers to leave Panthers

Ivan Cleary has warned any club offering Jarome Luai big money to make him their main man is taking a risk, as the Penrith star prepares to talk with rivals.

Luai headlined a list of close to 150 off-contract NRL players who officially became free agents on Wednesday, able to field offers with rival clubs for 2025 and beyond.

The Panthers are confident they will be able to keep their three-time premiership-winning five-eighth, having offered him a two-season deal worth $850,000 a year. But the club are also aware money talks.

More lucrative offers are likely come from elsewhere, with Luai the most credentialed playmaker on the open market.

The 26-year-old is expected to field offers of close to $1.1 million a season from rivals, who are desperate for talent in the halves. Such a contract would likely leave Luai as a club’s chief playmaker, something he has not had to do at Penrith with childhood teammate Nathan Cleary alongside him.

“I think that’s that’s the biggest thing at play here,” Ivan Cleary said. “If any club wants to (offer) the money, we’re talking, probably the money that he may consider leaving (for), it would have to be for that kind of role.

“Is he ready for that? That’s a question mark. Could he do it? I’m sure he can do it. Has he done it? No, he hasn’t. He’s done a little bit with Samoa of course at last year’s World Cup.

“But generally speaking, in this team he’s had his role to play. So it would be slightly different. So I guess that’s a risk that everyone would have to take.”

Cleary’s comments came as Penrith announced MyPlace as their major sponsor for the next three years, with the most lucrative deal in the club’s history.

Such has been Penrith’s rise in recent years, the deal is believed to be worth 35 per cent more than their major sponsorships of midway through last decade.

And officials are hopeful the team’s on-field success will make it difficult for Luai to walk away from his childhood club.

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for RLWC)

The five-eighth admitted after last month’s grand final he had to make a decision between success or family.

But the Panthers are also hopeful examples of former players not having success elsewhere and the representative impacts of that could factor into Luai’s decision.

“I’m sure he would (take that into account),” Cleary said. “We want to make it really clear we want him to stay. I’m pretty sure he wants to stay as well.

“But money talks, so I guess we’ll see what happens.”

Penrith also can’t afford to blow their salary cap on Luai, with several others players off contract at the end of 2024.

And while Luai’s contract is the biggest piece of the puzzle, club bosses are insistent they will not rush him.

“This club and the team has had over the past few years has been built on some really disciplined salary cap decisions,” football boss Matt Cameron said.

“We think we can get a deal done. We think he wants to be here. We’re confident we can get that sorted.”

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