He’s been the heir apparent at Penrith for quite some time, but now exciting young Panthers half Jarome Luai has declared he’s ready to take over from premiership-winning five-eighth James Maloney, if he departs at season’s end.
Maloney’s tipped to leave the Panthers at the conclusion of the 2019 season and finish his illustrious career in the Super League. Despite having a year remaining on his contract with Penrith, the 33-year-old has been quite open about his intentions to see out his career in the UK.
If that all transpires, enter 22-year-old phenom Jarome Luai.
Since debuting last season, the St Marys junior has slowly been groomed to take over from Maloney and partner up with old friend Nathan Cleary in the halves.
After some standout performances already this season, Luai said he’s more than ready to assume the throne left behind by King Jimmy.
“I’ll be ready if that opportunity does come,” he told Extra Time.
“I feel like I’m ready and I’ve learned a lot this season so far. Jimmy’s been awesome for me and if he does leave, I’ll be sweet to put my hand up for that role.”
Luai’s featured in nine first grade games for Penrith this season, including the club’s recent five-game winning streak.
Luai said he is grateful for every learning experience he’s been given.
“I’ve learned a lot throughout the whole year, I’ve been playing positions I’ve never played before and it’s really helped my game when I do go back to five-eighth,” Luai said.
Sitting on the cusp of the top eight, Penrith will be aiming for six straight victories tonight when they take on the Gold Coast Titans at Panthers Stadium.
Penrith’s Round 17 clash against Garth Brennan’s men will be the first of three consecutive games at the Mulgoa Road venue. Luai said he’s looking forward to the lengthy home stand.
“We have three games in a row at home and we are really looking forward to building something,” he said.
“We’ve got ourselves back on track and we are really confident now.”
While Penrith’s confidence is rising with every win, they are wary of the embattled Titans who beat them earlier this year at home.
“The Titans can turn it on when they want to,” Luai said.
“We have to keep building on the last five games we’ve been playing.”
Luai is enjoying playing with some of Penrith’s fellow young stars, including Brent Naden.
“I’m really proud of him. I came through the U20s system with Nado and he left and came back,” Luai said.
“It was unexpected for him to get the opportunity that he got but he’s taken it with both hands. I’m sure he’ll get better with the more experience he gets.”
Luai believes Penrith’s fightback this season has been partly built on the efforts of the club’s rookies.
“They’ve been awesome for us. They bring a lot of energy and you can see it out there on the field. Brian, Mitch, Nado have been awesome for the side and hopefully they can continue how they’re going,” he said.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.