Star weighs in on NSW’s Origin headache

Jarome Luai says he’d be “pretty keen” to partner Mitch Moses in Origin III and also indicated he’d be open to playing for the Kangaroos, but insists he has no preference when it comes to who should replace the injured Nathan Cleary in the Blues side.

New South Wales coach Brad Fittler has a number of options up his sleeve for Game Three, with Moses, Adam Reynolds and Mitchell Pearce contenders to wear the No. 7 jersey, while Luai could shift to halfback to allow Jack Wighton to start.

Moses had the perfect opportunity to stake his claim on Friday night but missed a penalty goal at the death that would have handed the Eels a one-point win over the Cleary-less Panthers.

The blue and golds lost 13-12, and while Moses had a solid night, Origin comes down to big moments, and he was unable to nail his.

“I’ve watched Parra’s last month of footy, and he’s playing really well,” Luai said after the game.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence, which is really good to see. If he does come into camp then he’ll be coming in under some good form. I’m pretty keen if he’s Freddy’s option.”

Luai was to the point when asked whether he had any other thoughts on who should partner him.

“No way,” he said without hesitation.

“When I put that jersey on, I want to do a good job for the state. It’ll be back in NSW as well, so I’m hoping to make it 3-0.”

Luai has to be in some doubt for the July 14 clash after he injured his left knee midway through the second half of Friday’s win. He required strapping and had a big bag of ice on the knee after the game but insists it’s just a cork.

He said he would go for precautionary scans on Saturday but was never going to leave the field after Cleary bravely played 70 minutes with a busted shoulder for NSW.

“I was thinking about Nathan a bit out there,” he said.

“He probably played with a lot worse of an injury than I did so I just thought that I (would stay out there) and do a really good job for my team and stick solid.

“It was a bit uncomfortable in certain positions but I just wanted to do a good job for my team and stay out there to help them with my leadership. I tried to do a few kicks and it was a bit sore.”

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary was proud of how his fiery star handled the playmaking duties on Friday, and Luai said he’d be happy to don the No. 7 jersey for the Blues if required.

“Nath has barely missed any games so I haven’t had too many games in the seven, but I think by playing with Nath, I sort of get how he sees the game. I probably don’t do it as well as him, but if I can be half as good as Nathan then I’ll be all right,” he said.

“It comes with a lot of responsibility that jersey, but you’ve got guys like Cookie and Teddy that you can lean on. It’s pretty big shoes to fill, but there are plenty of guys to help me out.”

While he’s only played a handful of games at halfback in the NRL, Luai showed in 2015 that he’s more than capable of stepping up into the role.

Nathan Cleary had been the star of the 2015 Holden Cup, but missed the preliminary final and the premiership win after he was selected to captain the Australian Schoolboys side.

Penrith rolled on with Luai and Tyrone May in the halves, with the pair both scoring tries in the grand final win over Tom Trbojevic’s Sea Eagles.

“I was pretty nervous that week,” Luai recalled.

“I think that was the first game that I played seven. Tyrone was there as well, and I think it’s pretty cool that we can now play at NRL level in the six and seven. I had a lot of people to lean on.”

The 24-year-old is the form No. 6 at the moment and is on Mal Meninga’s radar to make his Kangaroos debut.

Luai has played five Tests for Samoa and has indicated he wants to help the nation become a powerhouse, but he is open to the idea of representing Australia.

“I’ve seen some reports that he wants to give me a buzz,” Luai said of Meninga.

“I haven’t said no to anything yet, so it’d be pretty cool to chat with him. I think you definitely have to respect someone like that and you definitely have to hear what they have to say. I have full respect for what he is to the game.”

Moses could be called up to make his Origin debut. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images

Matt’s the man

Panthers fans with long memories would have had nasty flashbacks when Matt Burton’s first field goal attempt cannoned into the left upright against the Eels on Friday night.

After all, they’d seen him miss five one-pointers in a 14-all draw with the Knights last season, with a number of those attempts crashing into the posts.

But the youngster is a fast learner and doesn’t dwell on the past, which explains why he wanted the ball minutes later as he knocked over the winner at the death to seal a 13-12 win for the Panthers over their local rivals. The result keeps Penrith level with the Melbourne Storm at the top of the table.

“I can’t even explain it. It’s a good feeling to ice it,” he said after the game.

“When it hit the post, I don’t know what I was thinking. But as soon as I got the second chance, I thought this was the time, and it paid off.

“The feeling to win drives you to step up and keep going.

“I never really hit many field goals (growing up), but to get my first one in the NRL was pretty special.”

Ivan Cleary still remembers the Newcastle game all too well, but was proud of the way the Bulldogs-bound playmaker backed himself to be the hero, as was Panthers halfback Jarome Luai.

“I thought he got the first one, that’s why I didn’t chase,” the Blues five-eighth said.

“You could see in Burto’s eyes that he wanted that moment, and we’ve all got faith in Burto. He practises those kicks, and that’s what practise does – it makes you ready for those moments. We’re proud of Burto.”

Burton was named in the halves but was shifted to left centre where he has spent most of the season. It robbed him of the chance to show off his combination with Luai in a potential audition for the Blues as cover for injured Panther Nathan Cleary.

The Dubbo junior is only 21 but there have been calls for him to be thrust into the NSW team given his hot start to life in the NRL.

“I don’t really look into it much, but you obviously hear about it,” Burton said.

“I just focus on playing good footy here, and that’s a bonus if that comes.”

The decision to play Burton at centre on Friday came as a shock given he was named in the No. 6 jersey, but he knew all along that he would play out wide to preserve the side’s lethal left edge.

It meant Tyrone May moved to the halves where he struggled in Penrith’s losses to the Wests Tigers and Sharks without the Origin players, and was subsequently dropped for the Round 15 win over the Roosters.

However, his coach has his back and revealed he will remain in the halves as long as Cleary is out.

“He was always going to be our preferred seven option if Nat was out,” Cleary said.

“I certainly wasn’t blaming him for the two games we lost, but he was a bit flat. I put a bit of faith in him because I believe in him.”

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