Benji Marshall, in his bid to secure the top free agent in the NRL, has reportedly paid a private visit to Jarome Luai’s residence. The move is seen as a strategic step to bolster his burgeoning head coaching career with a star recruit.
Luai, a player much sought-after since opening up to the market a couple of weeks ago, was confidentially approached by Marshall. The sources bought this information to light, on the condition of anonymity. The top-secret conversation reportedly revolved around the prospect of Luai joining the Wests Tigers, with Marshall selling the advantages of the switch.
Marshall, who is yet to coach his first match since taking over from Tim Sheens, is hands-on in revitalising the last two season’s wooden spooners, the Wests Tigers. He is determined to bring in premier talent from those available in the NRL.
The biggest fish he’s trying to hook is none other than Luai, who previously admitted idolising Marshall. Currently resisting a $1.7 million two-year extension offer from the Panthers, Luai’s potential signing could prove pivotal for the Tigers.
Marshall’s secret visit to the 26-year-old’s family home in western Sydney strongly suggests that the Tigers are preparing to finalise a high-profile signing. However, the club has yet to officially tender an offer to Luai.
Marshall was prudent in managing speculations surrounding Luai’s move when he faced the media in Sydney a little over a week ago. He instead chose to centre the conversation around the available roster for the 2024 season.
With veteran half Aidan Sezer, Jayden Sullivan, and Latu Fainu ready to play for the Tigers in the following season, and Adam Doueihi potentially back later in the season post his ACL injury, Marshall said, “All players that come onto the market, you’ve got to have a look at, especially if they’re marquee players. But we’ve signed halves. We’ve got four halves for the season going into it. We’ll prioritise that at the moment.”
Marshall’s recruitment strategy included having an experienced half like Sezer in the Tigers’ squad for directive support after Luke Brooks shifted to Manly. Still, Luai’s possible inclusion could disrupt the dynamics, positioning him to lead the team harmoniously alongside Nathan Cleary.
Luai’s decision regarding his commitment to the Panthers, which they hope can be confirmed before the Christmas celebrations, will largely affect the team’s financial position. Consequently, the compelling situation might force the Panthers to yield to a potentially larger offer from rival clubs such as the Tigers.
As Luai recovers from a shoulder surgery procedure, the Panthers have conscientiously refrained from escalating any conversation regarding the player’s future. However, as the championship-winning squad gradually resume training, delineating Luai’s future is expected to take priority.
The team, coached by Ivan Cleary, has demonstrated no keenness to release players who choose to sign with other clubs before their contract ends—evident from their decision to retain Matt Burton, Viliame Kikau, Api Koroisau, Stephen Crichton and Spencer Leniu during their championship-winning seasons.