NRL: Benji Marshall influence key factor in Jarome Luai's switch from Penrith Panthers to Wests Tigers

Linking up with NZ Kiwis great Benji Marshall was a decisive factor in Jarome Luai defecting to Wests Tigers, as the Penrith Panthers half signed a five-year contract with his new club.   

Luai, 26, will bid goodbye to Penrith at the end of the 2024 season, ending weeks of speculation to sign with Wests Tigers in a deal reportedly worth more than $1.2 million per season.   

The move will see Luai leave the Panthers, who have won the last three successive NRL premierships for the Tigers – who have finished last for the past two seasons. 

Wests Tigers coach Benji Marshall.
Wests Tigers coach Benji Marshall. Photo credit: Getty Images

In fact, individually, Luai has won more premierships (three) than the Tigers (one) in their entire history. 

While it would be easy to put the move down to the huge financial incentive, it's working with Kiwis icon Marshall that's proven to be the most attractive option.   

After a playing career that spanned more than 300 NRL games – including the Tigers' 2005 premiership – Marshall will this season take the reins as a first-time head coach.   

And even as he prepares to play what will be his final season in Penrith – gunning for a fourth straight crown – Luai pinpoints Marshall as reason for leaving the NRL's modern day great side.    

"I've had a great connection with Benji," said Luai. "We've spoken about the future, and what he sees in me moving forward.   

"My first game of rugby league was that grand final. We were out on a camping trip, [with] my family. To see that guy do his thing out there inspired me.

"I've always been a big fan of Benji, just for how he holds himself. I got the opportunity to chuck the boots on with him in Māori [All Stars] camp, and actually room with him, which was cool for me.

"I've watched him play, I've played against him, I've played with him and now I get to be coached by him in 2025, it'll be pretty cool."

Luai also revealed he had more than one option on the table.

Canterbury Bulldogs were also reported to be interested in bringing Luai to Bankstown, given the relationship with head coach Cameron Ciraldo.

The duo worked together at Penrith, while Ciraldo was an assistant coach to Ivan Cleary.

But ultimately, the offer the Tigers tabled was too great for Luai to say no to.

"Ever since we've come to market, there's been a lot of interest," he added. "It's been a great learning curve for me.

"That's why I'm so grateful for Wok [manager Wok Wright]. He's shown me the business side of the NRL. I've learned a lot about business and general, and about people as well.

"It's been great for me."