Wests Tigers have FINALLY landed their marquee signing. Now Benji has a $6m puzzle to solve

It’s official. Jarome Luai will be a Tiger from 2025.

Luai announced his intentions to be leave the Panthers at the end of 2024 for the Tigers in a snap press conference on Tuesday, with the terms reported to be for $6 million over five years.

Tigers interim CEO Shane Richardson couldn’t contain his excitement a day after, telling SEN the club simply “had to get him”.

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“Every team needs and requires a player who can change the game,” Richardson said.

“They are very few and far between and they are like diamonds when they come up because it’s rare when they do.”

The Tigers and coach Benji Marshall now have their man, with Luai the main attraction in what will be a burgeoning collection of talented halves at Concord.

In addition to Luai, the Tigers will boast the likes of livewire Jayden Sullivan, rising star Latu Fainu, teen sensation Lachlan Galvin.

Adam Doueihi, who is slated to return from an ACL injury in the second half of the 2024 season, will also be at Marshall’s disposal.

Regardless of who the Tigers have signed, Luai will be called upon to be the chief playmaker of this team.

Whether that is in the number six jersey or number seven jersey remains to be seen, but the early dialogue gives the impression that Luai will start 2025 as the Tigers’ halfback.

The decision! Luai full press conference | 12:12

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It’s a role that Luai hasn’t really been required to fill in club land, playing alongside Nathan Cleary, but one he has impressed in at international level when leading Samoa to a World Cup final in 2022.

Luai addressed the matter at the forementioned press conference when asked about Penrith coach Ivan Cleary’s comments questioning whether Luai was ready to be a team’s marquee playmaker.

“He wasn’t lying,” Luai said.

“At the end of the day, it is a risk to pay someone any amount of money what you think they’re going to be for your club but like I said, I’ve got full belief of what I do and what I can bring and that all comes on the back of hard work.

“It (Cleary’s comments) did shock me a bit, but he wasn’t lying.”

If Luai does make the shift to the number seven jersey, it would emulate a transition Marshall made in the second half of his career after leaving the Tigers.

Marshall transformed into a full-time halfback with the Dragons, reining in his running game and developing his playmaking.

Brad Fittler, who coached Luai while coach of the Blues, believes the polarising playmaker can lead a team if given a chance, drawing parallels to Marshall.

“Benji did it himself, didn’t he?” Fittler told the SMH last month.

“Benji wasn’t a traditional halfback, but he ended up playing halfback his way.

“Some of Benji’s best footy was at the end (of his career) and he was playing a completely different role.

“He’s a great example of the possibilities here. And again, Jarome’s just never had that responsibility.

“So I think there’s a lot of just assuming he can’t do it, just because he’s never had to.”

Jarome Luai led Samoa into a World Cup final at halfback. Source: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

While Luai’s halves partner is yet to be known, it’s not like he won’t have help around him.

Former Panthers teammate and good friend Api Koroisau was excellent in his first season for the Tigers in 2023, as was fullback Jahream Bula.

Bula burst onto the scene last season, finishing second in the NRL Rookie of the Year race and cleaning up at the Tigers’ awards night which included the Kelly-Barnes Medal as the club’s player of the year.

WHO WILL PARTNER LUAI IN 2025 AND BEYOND?

With Luai not due to arrive next season, 2024 shapes up as a crucial year for the Tigers, specifically the halves.

Luai is certain to start, but who will partner him?

At this early stage, Sullivan appears to be the favourite.

Signed from the Dragons on a reported $2.2 million deal over four years, Sullivan will more than likely wear the number six alongside veteran halfback Aiden Sezer when the Tigers take on the Raiders to kick off their 2024 season.

Former Dragon Jayden Sullivan puts in on day one of pre-season for Wests Tigers. Pic: TigersSource: Supplied

Sezer is considered a stop-gap option until Luai arrives, but Sullivan is considered the future. At least that’s what the Tigers’ brass hope will eventuate.

The 22-year-old has flashed plenty of ability during his 27 first grade games for the Dragons, but consistency has been an issue.

While Sullivan will be given plenty of opportunities this season to be the guy alongside Luai in 2025, if he struggles, Marshall may be willing to throw one of his young guns into the furnace.

Teenagers Latu Fainu, who signed a four-year deal worth $2 million from 2024, and 2023 Peter Sterling Medal winner for top schoolboy player Lachlan Galvin are waiting in the wings for their shot at NRL level.

Latu Fainu at Tigers training. Source: NRL PhotosSource: Supplied

Fainu was one of the best afield during the NSW under-19’s win over the Queensland under-19’s side in July.

Considering Fainu and Sullivan are on similar high-paying deals, it might not be unreasonable to suggest the Tigers only keep one of the two next season considering the Luai signing.

Galvin has signed a new three-year deal starting in 2024, but other clubs are rumoured to be circling.

The other name in the mix is Doueihi.

Injuries have unfortunately been the theme of Doueihi’s career, with the 25-year-old suffering his third ACL tear against the Eels on Easter Monday. In six seasons, Doueihi has only played in 87 games for the Tigers and Rabbitohs.

The latest setback will keep Doueihi out for at least half of the 2024 season, which is a contract year.

What is in Doueihi’s favour is his versatility.

Even if there is no room in the halves for him when Luai arrives, Doueihi is an adept outside back and can feature at fullback or in the centres.

Source website: www.foxsports.com.au

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