NSW could have to find two new halves for State of Origin III with Jarome Luai unlikely to play after scans showed the Penrith five-eighth had injured the medial ligament in his knee.
Luai was hurt in Penrith’s 13-12 win over Parramatta on Friday night when his foot was caught in a second-half tackle, and while he required attention on field he managed to play on.
However the 24-year-old was taken for scans on Saturday morning before they revealed some minor damage.
The Blues five-eighth is now expected to be in a knee brace for at least the next week, meaning his preparations would be limited even if he is taken into camp.
It comes as another significant blow to the Blues’ hopes of a whitewash, after they already lost Luai’s halves partner Nathan Cleary with a shoulder injury.
Penrith had earlier tried to downplay the issue, laughing it off as a cork immediately after the game.
“I was thinking about Nathan a bit out there, more courageous thoughts,” Luai said.
“He played through a lot worse injury than I did so I thought I could do a job for my team here 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 and help them with my leadership.
“I tried to do a few kicks and it was a bit sore but it feels good.”
Luai’s injury means at the very least means coach Brad Fittler will have to name cover when he picks his squad on Sunday.
Mitch Moses is the favourite alongside Adam Reynolds to fill Cleary’s No.7 jersey, while Cody Walker and Jack Wighton are the options at No.6 for Luai.
Selecting Wighton would be a reward for the reigning Dally M Medalist, after he played limited minutes off the bench as a utility in Games I and II.
But Walker would present the option to link he and Reynolds up in the halves and Damien Cook at hooker, with club combinations having worked for Fittler so far in the series.
If Luai does play, he has indicated he would want a controlling half such as Moses or Reynolds alongside him rather than a shift to No.7 himself.
His concerns are well founded, given he has only played as a halfback five times since his NRL debut in 2018.
“That’s what I’m used to and how we’ve always played,” Luai said.
“Nath has barely missed any games so I haven’t had too many games in that seven.”
Reynolds likely shapes as the safe option for the Blues, given he has been in the Origin arena before and has one of the best kicking games in the competition.
But Moses could give them an eye to the future if Cleary is ever unavailable again, having grown into a far more mature half.
“I’ve got no preference (who I play beside),” Luai said.
“I’ve watched Parra the last month and they’re playing well and he (Moses) is playing with a lot of confidence which is really good to see.
“If he does come into camp he’ll come in under some good form. I’m keen if he’s the option.”