Tigers’ halves are higher priority than Luai: Benji

Jasper Bruce |

Coach Benji Marshall will prioritise solving the Wests Tigers’ current halves puzzle over pursuing superstar NRL free agent Jarome Luai.

Penrith’s triple premiership-winning five-eighth Luai was the highest-profile player to hit the open market on November 1 and can sign with a rival club for 2025 at any time.

Should Luai reject the Panthers’ offer of a two-year contract, believed to be worth around $850,000 annually, St George Illawarra, Canterbury and the Tigers have been floated as potential destinations.

All three have struggled for consistency in the halves through lean seasons and would likely have the funds to offer a seven-figure salary to Luai.

He grew up a Tigers fan, idolising Marshall, who has overseen the recruitment of new playmaking options Jayden Sullivan and Aidan Sezer.

Sezer and injured five-eighth Adam Doueihi are only contracted through 2024, though, so the club will need to look to the future before too long.

But as he prepares for his first full season in charge, Marshall is firm on keeping any contract talk in-house, lest it compound scrutiny on the back-to-back wooden spooners as it has in the past.

“One thing I’m not going to do is talk about recruitment publicly,” Marshall said.

“Because it does have the effect to ruin a deal if stuff gets out or stuff gets leaked. 

“All players that come into the market, you’ve got to have a look at, especially if they’re marquee players (like Luai).

“But we’ve signed halves, we’ve got four halves for the season going into it. We’ll prioritise that at the moment.” 

Sezer, Sullivan and highly-rated young recruit Latu Fainu look set to jostle for the two spots in the halves after the departures of Luke Brooks and Daine Laurie.

Sezer, 32, offers experience, having featured in the 2019 grand final with Canberra before playing four Super League seasons.

Ex-Dragons five-eighth Sullivan and Manly product Fainu have signed long-term, although Fainu is yet to debut at NRL level.

Rangy five-eighth Doueihi is expected to miss significant time next season with his knee injury, but could return to the selection frame before the year is out. 

Marshall said he had not come to a decision on which players would start in the halves for round one.

“Everyone’s got ideas about what I should do, but one thing I’ve made really clear with the players is no-one’s guaranteed a spot,” he said.

“I don’t care how old you are, how experienced you are, if you earn it through hard training in the pre-season, you’re more than likely going to play.”

Asked where the Tigers could be expected to finish in 2024 following 12 seasons out of the finals, Marshall was diplomatic.

“I’ve had a good think about that and one thing I’m not going to do is talk about where we finish, top eight, top four or any of that,” he said.

“What I will say though is that we’ll be a process-driven team that will have a way we want to play and a style. 

“If we can reach those outcomes every week, that’ll be a pass for us and we’ll see where that gets us.”