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NRL News: Luai wants Origin redemption, World Cup heading back Down Under, Dolphins deny stuffing up Bennett deal

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8th May, 2024
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Jarome Luai has declared he has unfinished business in NSW colours, with the Penrith five-eighth desperate to win his way back into the State of Origin side.

Axed after they went 2-0 down in the series last year, Luai is among a number of contenders to be picked alongside Nathan Cleary later this month.

Cody Walker was man of the match in Game III for the Blues, but South Sydney’s horror start is set to make him the first player in more than two decades to go from Origin MVP to axed.

Mitch Moses’ fitness is likely to leave him struggling to claim the No.6 jersey, while Nicho Hynes and Matt Burton are among other options.

But Luai remains a chance, given the Panthers’ start to 2024 and his own combination with Cleary.

Jarome Luai of the Panthers catches the ball during the round 12 NRL match between Brisbane Broncos and Penrith Panthers at Suncorp Stadium on May 18, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Jarome Luai of the Panthers catches the ball during the round 12 NRL match between Brisbane Broncos and Penrith Panthers at Suncorp Stadium on May 18, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The 27-year-old has briefly spoken with new Blues coach Michael Maguire and is desperate to atone for last year.

“I didn’t leave the jersey the way I wanted to,” Luai said.

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“Especially after a loss, it hurts you a bit. You want to make amends for that.

“If I’m in that jersey, preparing, then that’ll be a motivation for me to fix how I left the jersey.

“I’m not there yet. But once I’m in the jersey and once I’m in the side preparing for that week, then that’s when I’ll draw upon all those experiences.”

Luai’s experiences includes being sent off in the final minute of Origin II last year, when he and Reece Walsh both headbutted each other as NSW surrendered the series.

Death threats via social media followed. To date, last year’s Origin axing remains among the few setbacks for the Panther’s career given the success he has had at Penrith.

“It was pretty tough,” Luai said. “There was a lot of criticism around Origin and performing. That’s the pressure of Origin, that’s the arena.

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“Rugby league is a roller coaster, regardless. People think you’re going so well. But it can always get better. That humbles me and always keeps me grounded.

“I know that jersey will pick the man, the man who is good enough to wear it. That’s how it should be. I’m just worried about playing my best in my No.6 jersey here.

“You need to earn that jersey. But I’m building, we’re winning games here. And that’s all I’m focusing on at the moment.”

Penrith could have as many as six NSW Origin representatives again this year, with Isaah Yeo, Liam Martin, Brian To’o and Cleary all regulars.

Panthers players have also pushed the case of fullback Dylan Edwards, but that would likely require selectors to make the drastic decision of leaving out captain James Tedesco.

“That’s not really (a goal I have set out),” Edwards said.

“I have never thought about the ball being in the selectors’ court. It’s very cliche, but I focus solely on here (at Penrith.”

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World Cup coming back to Australia

Australia looks set to host the 2026 World Cup after France pulled out of staging the event after the French government reneged on a deal to fund the tournament.

The International Rugby League met recently in Singapre and according to a report in The Guardian, it is all but certain that the event will be hosted in Australia with the Kangaroos and Jillaroos to defend their crowns on home soil.

The IRL had received 22 Expressions of Interest (EOIs) to host World Cups from 2026 to 2030.

Rugby league’s Ashes series has already been rekindled as part of a revamped international calendar announced late last year.

The World Cup in 2026 will reduce the men’s component of the competition from 16 to 10 teams and will continue as a three-format event with women’s and wheelchair tournaments.

The quarter-finalists from the 2022 tournament in the UK – Australia, Samoa, New Zealand, England, Tonga, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Lebanon – will qualify automatically, with the remaining two spots fought out through qualifying.

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The women’s World Cup will remain at eight teams and will move into a standalone quadrennial cycle after 2028, when a second World Cup in the space of two years will take place.

The Kangaroos will travel to the UK for an Ashes tour in 2028, while New Zealand will also head north in 2027. Samoa look set to tour England at the end of this season following on from last year’s historic venture by Tonga.

Dolphins boss denies Bennett blunder

Dolphins CEO Terry Reader says Wayne Bennett never intended to be head coach of the side in 2025, despite criticism of the club for not signing him on a longer deal.

Bennett, off-contract this year, will meet with South Sydney officials in the coming weeks to discuss a return as head coach of the Rabbitohs in 2025 following Jason Demetriou’s sacking.

Former greats turned pundits, such as Gorden Tallis, have questioned why the Dolphins would let Bennett leave next year with the side in the top four.

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Dolphins CEO Terry Reader is aware of the commentary but said “nothing has changed” since Bennett was involved in setting up the club in late 2021.

From the get-go, Bennett agreed to come on board for the planning year in 2022 and then coach in the NRL for 2023 and 2024 before handing over to his assistant Kristian Woolf in 2025.

“From day one Wayne said he would wait until 2024 and work out whether he wanted to still be a head coach,” Reader said.

“Now he had got to that point and he wants to keep doing it, but he knew that was never going to be at the Dolphins.”

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“Wayne was always part of putting together the plan we have and has never once changed from that. From our point of view as a club, nothing has changed.

“We had to work out a system we were both happy with about who would come in (after) Wayne. Kristian Woolf was the answer both from the club and Wayne’s point of view. 

“Wayne, to his credit, wanted to make sure we had the right structure and right people, and have credibility about how we were set up so that players knew at least five years down the track what was in front of them.”

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Reader said at “no stage” had Bennett asked to coach in 2025 and delay Woolf’s succession.

“It shows the character of the coach and the man,” Reader said.

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“It was about putting the right people in place. We got Kristian who Wayne was involved in (appointing).

Kristian Woolf. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

“Kristian is not an assistant coach, he knows how to be a head coach. He has won three Super League premierships and turned Tonga into what they are, so very different from the previous clubs where Wayne has finished.”

Reader also said Bennett was never going to be, and never wanted to be, Dolphins director of football or coaching in 2025. 

The Dolphins did have a role for him, the details of which are now a moot point.

“The person who doesn’t believe in those positions more than anyone is probably Wayne,” Reader said.

“He was possibly going to be involved in our corporate side and work with us on our academies and our footprint all the way from Rockhampton to Brisbane, but never as director of coaching. 

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“The detail around (Bennett’s role) we would have gone into with him, but that is irrelevant because Wayne had to decide whether he’d had enough of coaching first, and he clearly hasn’t.”

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