Sport 'Dream come true': Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai to realise 15-year-old Origin fantasy
Luai clears air over 'out of context' Origin video
Blues star Jarome Luai has cleared the air over a controversial State of Origin video that has once again resurfaced.The point of contention? An old video dating back to 2017 of the Panthers five-eighth admitting he supported Queensland over NSW.
As 15-year-old Penrith juniors, Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary marvelled at the thought of one day pulling on the sky blue and representing New South Wales together under the State of Origin lights.
That dream will be realised next Wednesday night when the NRL's most in-form halves pairing take to rugby league's biggest stage in Townsville and hope to kickstart the Blues' Origin revenge.
"It was honestly always a dream when we first played together in Harold Matts," Cleary told Sporting News at the Blues' Origin launch.
"To be on the biggest stage now it's something we've just got to pinch ourselves about. It's definitely a dream come true."
NSW Blues Origin 1 team: Expert reaction, every selection analysed
Eight months ago it was the same old, same old for New South Wales. Stacked with talent, coached by a genius in Brad Fittler and unbackable favourites against the hapless Maroons – before losing another ‘unlosable series. In 2021 the story repeats. New South Wales’s Origin 1 team is brimming with talent from teams in sensational form, no real injuries to complain of and a coach saying he understands what he did wrong in 2020 and who is out to atone.
While Cleary is now one of the Blues' most experienced players with eight Origin caps and two series wins, Luai has had to bide his time.
He got a taste as part of Brad Fittler's extended squad last year, but the Panthers five-eighth's selection claims were undeniable going into this series, as he edged out Jack Wighton and Cody Walker for the No. 6 jersey.
"I've always wanted it to happen and the way Jarome's been playing it was just too hard to leave him out," Cleary added.
"It's a credit to him, he's worked his way in and I can't wait to see how he goes."
Cleary and Luai are part of a six-man Panthers' nucleus in the Blues squad that includes 2020 debutant Isaah Yeo along with new faces Brian To'o, Liam Martin and Api Koroisau, who is 18th man.
Prolific Panthers dominate NSW Origin selection
NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler has named three Penrith Panthers debutants in his 17 for the Origin opener.And in two more giant shows of faith in the undefeated Panthers, rugged winger Brian To'o will make his NSW debut after being picked on a wing, while back-rower Liam Martin will debut in a bench role. Uncapped Penrith hooker Api Koroisau has also been named 18th man.
Penrith have only lost one game in 12 months – last year's Grand Final – and NSW will be hoping that success carries over onto this year's series as the Blues look to avenge last year's devastating Origin defeat.
Cleary said the familiar faces will help Luai on debut, but didn't downplay the fact next Wednesday night will be the hardest test of his career to date.
"It was a bit of a blur, it just happened so fast," Cleary said of his debut back in 2018. "It's easily the hardest game you'll play.
"I don't think I need to tell him much. He was in camp and knows what to expect. He's just got to be himself, play his own game.
"There's combinations there [with other Penrith players], which helps.
"You've just got to work with other players and how they want the ball and build combinations with them."
Fittler backed Luai and his fellow Panthers debutants to flourish for New South Wales in the series opener, declaring their form was undeniable.
"It's just impossible to ignore the way they're playing at the moment," Fittler said at the Blues' official team launch.
"They're very in sync, the two halves especially."
Blues have edge of discipline over Maroons .
NSW might not get a home game until Origin III but they have the advantage of better discipline over Queensland coming into Wednesday night's series opener.It's feared new rule changes will have a detrimental impact on the free-flowing spectacle of State of Origin, but to avoid it costing either state a series discipline will be key.