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Opinion

It's time for Luai to stand up and clearly prove he can be the main man for Blues in Origin

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Expert
28th May, 2024
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I’m the first to admit that I am not a big fan of Jarome Luai. Perhaps I’m a little jealous that he doesn’t play for my team but the swagger, confidence and attitude is not something I typically admire in players.

I prefer a more understated player which potentially explains why my list of favourite players is a ‘who’s who’ of underdogs like Todd Lowrie, Jeff Robson, Ben Smith and Clinton Schifcofske.

I know I’m not the only one who has this view about Luai and come men’s State of Origin Game I next Wednesday night all eyes will be on Luai as one of the Blues’ most controversial players.

While some of the other selections might have people scratching their heads, Luai is the player that gets the most emotional reaction from Blues fans.

Many love him and many hate him and many will be waiting to see whether he can step up and help the Blues win Game I, ready to criticise if he doesn’t.

But for the first time in a long time, I’m excited to watch Luai play and wonder whether in season 2024 the way he plays his footy has turned a corner and could be of real benefit to the Blues.

Luai may not have been Michael Maguire’s first choice, with injury ravaging the NSW halves options, but I’m confident he’s up to the task.

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A criticism of Luai from many, is that he has looked better because of the presence of Nathan Cleary. That makes sense, given that Cleary is a once in a lifetime type player and he makes every player around him better.

The two players are a team and complement each other well. But since Cleary’s latest injury we’ve seen some changes to Luai’s game.

He has seemed to relish being the lead half for the Panthers and has played smart, controlled football. His performance against the Cronulla Sharks was one of his best games of the season and what impressed me most was that he didn’t overplay his hand.

He finished the game with a try, try assist, two line break assists, nine tackle busts and 103 metres. He also forced three dropouts and kicked for 633 metres, showing that although his long kicking game may not be his biggest strength, he still has the ability to use his boot to control a footy game.

Jarome Luai of the Blues looks to pass the ball during game two of the State of Origin series between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues at Suncorp Stadium on June 21, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Jarome Luai looks to pass. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

It’s becoming clearer to me that Luai wants a challenge and his next challenge may be to be the main man on a consistent basis. It’s no doubt one of the reasons he has decided to leave the best team in the competition to join a team like the Wests Tigers that continue to struggle.

He wants to be that main playmaker and prove that he can do it without Cleary by his side. Has Luai matured and is he ready to take on that more pronounced role?

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Luai will also be crucial next Wednesday from a leadership perspective. I was shocked to see James Tedesco dropped from the squad, given he has been the best Blues player for over a decade, but with the selection of Jake Trbojevic as captain its clear that Maguire is looking to take the leadership of the team in a different direction.

Luai must play a role in this. There are six debutants in the team and Nicho Hynes has barely played Origin, so as one of the most experienced players in the team and as five-eighth he has a real opportunity to be a mentor to the debutants and lead with confidence, particularly in attack.

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Origin will be a good test to see whether he is up to the task. In the past Luai has been known to act out on the field, particularly when things are not going his way (an experience he has not had much at Penrith in recent seasons). No doubt Tigers fans will be watching intently to see how he approaches this aspect of his game.

So even though I’m not the biggest Luai fan, I’m excited to see what he can offer next Wednesday night both from a footy perspective and a leadership perspective. His role will be critical in a State of Origin team which has several changes and a couple of new kids on the block.

I don’t think NSW can win if Luai does not play well. Whatever the result though, I hope he doesn’t have to remind me that I have to go to work the next morning.

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