Jarome Luai is leaving Penrith with the star five-eighth agreeing to terms at Wests Tigers on a multimillion-dollar deal over five years.
The 26-year-old NSW and Samoa representative had been offered a two-year deal to remain at Penrith with the three-time premiers hampered by a tight salary cap and unable to compete with rival bids.
Canterbury were also in the race for his signature but Luai has opted to join new coach Benji Marshall’s Wests Tigers rebuild following two straight wooden spoons.
He will see out the final year of his Penrith contract before making the switch in 2025.
There is a small chance that Penrith could convince him to stay – under the recently introduced transfer rules, the Panthers will have 10 days to present Luai with a counter-offer to get him to remain at the club although they will not be able to compete with the money on offer from their western Sydney rivals.
Penrith deemed him worth a deal around $850,000 but the Tigers have locked him into a five-year arrangement worth $6 million, as first reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.
Marshall is believed to have promised Luai the No.7 jersey to take on a chief playmaker role after spending his career as a second option behind Nathan Cleary at the Panthers.
The Tigers have signed veteran Aidan Sezer to provide stopgap reliability alongside young prospects Jayden Sullivan and Latu Fainu next season in the halves.
Penrith have the nucleus of their premiership squad re-signed long term in Cleary, Isaiah Yeo, Brian To’o, James Fisher-Harris, Dylan Edwards, Moses Leota and Liam Martin.
They have also said farewell to back-up playmakers Sean O’Sullivan and Jack Cogger in recent seasons and have a young five-eighth coming through their ranks in former NSW under-19 representative Jack Cole, who is in line to inherit the No.6 jersey from Luai.
A lightning rod for controversy in recent seasons due to a series of ill-advised social media posts and his brash nature, Luai has played 107 matches for Penrith since his debut in 2018, starting in all three of their Grand Final wins.
He has represented the Blues in seven Origins and turned out for Samoa on 11 occasions, including the 2022 World Cup final loss to the Kangaroos.
His decision to join the Tigers is a huge vote of confidence for the club which underwent dramatic upheaval earlier this week when CEO Justin Pascoe resigned from his role after the entire board was dismissed following an independent review into the joint venture.
Interim boss Shane Richardson, who will begin his time at the Tigers on January 2, on Wednesday said he was a fan of Luai’s.
“I’ve made my feelings on Luai known for a long time,” Richardson said. “In my opinion, he was the best young half coming through.
“Not only that, he’s a great team leader. That Penrith side revolves around Luai. He’s a great person off the field despite what many media people like to try to make out.
“You couldn’t meet a better person than him and you couldn’t ask for a better person at the club. I’m not across it yet, so all I want to do is assist Benji to put together the best roster possible.”