Masked Panther: How Luai saved his Origin jumper

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Freddy’s faith in Luai

Jarome Luai was all but gone from the NSW side a month ago, but a stunning fortnight of form and Brad Fittler’s desire to have a club combination in the halves has saved him.

But Luai likely knows he must perform in Adelaide or confront the possibility of losing his jumper to Nicho Hynes, who is breathing down his neck and will sit on the bench for the Origin opener against Queensland next Wednesday.

Luai is among five Panthers who will run out onto Adelaide Oval – Nathan Cleary, Brian To’o, Liam Martin and Isaah Yeo are also in Freddy’s team. After initially missing out on selection, Stephen Crichton has been named 18th man.

Jarome Luai at Blues training this week. Photo: NRL Images.

How Origin week will unfold

It’ll be a busy week for the Penrith players involved in next Wednesday’s Origin opener.

Outside of the obvious training commitments, there’s plenty of other things on the to do list – including the True Blues Dinner, which was held on Monday night.

The squad will fly to Adelaide on Monday, ahead of a media appearance in Rundle Mall on Tuesday and then the game itself on Wednesday.

The Panthers representatives will fly back to Sydney on Thursday and will check in with the club, ahead of a decision on whether they back-up against the Dragons on Sunday, June 4.

Leniu back next week

Good news for Penrith’s forward pack, with Spencer Leniu to return from his ruptured testicle against the Dragons next Sunday night. I’m told he’s a certainty for the clash, which sits in the rare 6.15pm timeslot at BlueBet Stadium.

Spencer Leniu. Photo: NRL Images.

Luke gets game time

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary sent Soni Luke back to reserve grade last weekend to ensure he gets plenty of game time as the team still works its way through its dummy half conundrum.

Luke only got 17 minutes of game time against the Broncos last Thursday night, prompting Cleary to ensure he got some work in the legs against the Magpies on Saturday.

There’s no question Mitch Kenny is warming into the season at 9, with calls for Luke to be the club’s starting hooker starting to quieten.

Back as favourites

South Sydney’s time as Premiership favourites didn’t last long. The TAB has reinstalled the competition-leading Panthers as favourites to win the Grand Final at $3.50, with the Rabbitohs out to $4.50. The big fall from grace is the Roosters, who have blown out to $15.00.

Cleary breaks records

It was a busy night for Penrith halfback and co-captain Nathan Cleary at Suncorp Stadium against the Broncos.

The 25-year-old become the youngest player in rugby league history to reach 1300 career points, and his field goal also took him to the top of the record books as far as one-pointers for Penrith are concerned.

Stadium back in spotlight

A piece in News Corp publications over the weekend suggested the new Penrith Stadium was back as a major talking point, but the truth is the whole thing remains stalled while the State Government work out whether the $300 million commitment will go ahead.

Knocking down and re-building the stadium on the current footprint would barely increase the capacity, place the venue under the Government’s control and likely force loyal Western Grandstand members out of their seats to make way for more corporate facilities. It’s hardly a win. I’m still of the opinion the Government will eventually scrap the project entirely and look towards an upgrade of sorts.


Penrith prop Moses Leota signing and giving his boots to an excited fan at Suncorp Stadium last Thursday night.

Moses Leota signing his boots for a fan. Photo: NRL Images.

Kent still off air

News Corp journalist Paul Kent remains stood down and wasn’t back in his ‘NRL 360’ chair this week, suggesting he’ll remain off air until the court process involving assault charges is over – which could be some time away.

That situation likely suits the Penrith Panthers just fine; they’ve had growing frustrations with Kent and Fox Sports over the way the team has been talked about in recent years.

Nobody is smiling over Kent’s alleged actions and everyone is concerned about the alleged victim, but there’s no complaints from anyone that he’s not on air at the moment. One thing that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Penrith and the wider NRL community is News Corp’s lack of coverage of Kent’s case.

Monitoring health

The Panthers are well aware of how their players are travelling – especially given so many have young families. Each day, the players sign on using a tablet and they rate their sleep from the previous night and their current overall health. It’s been a good initiative – ensuring officials can catch any issues early.

Got some goss?

I don’t keep secrets but I do protect my sources. If you’ve got some news, email me at [email protected].

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