The player taking the heat off Cleary

Sam Pasfield

Penrith Panthers have finished the opening two rounds of the NRL with a 52-0 record, taking plenty of confidence out of their wins against the North Queensland Cowboys and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, and there there has been a Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues hopeful who has been shining just as much as incumbent halfback Nathan Cleary.

Panthers five-eighth Jarome Luai has recorded three try assists, seven tackle breaks and 41 tackles in the opening two rounds. He made it look easy against the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Saturday after he spun away from the defence, pivoted and kicked a grubber to set up a fantastic try for Tyrone May.

Luai established himself as a permanent halves partner alongside Nathan Cleary last year and was later rewarded with a spot in the 27-man Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues squad. Although he didn’t get the chance to play Origin, True Blue Peter Sterling has been impressed with his form. 

“It’s a really good sign where on a number of occasions I’ve seen Jarome outshine or overshadow Nathan Cleary,” Sterling told Channel Nine’s The Sunday Footy Show.

“Nathan Cleary is the ultimate game manager but I thought he was clearly the best player on the field yesterday, Jarome, and you can just see him growing in confidence.

“It hasn’t taken him long to get used to the NRL at all and again maybe the fact that he’s come in a little bit later, but I like that fact that it’s not all about Nathan Cleary - if somebody else needs to step up he just puts his hand straight up.” 

Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler, speaking in his role as commentator for Channel Nine on the Sunday Footy Show, declared Penrith are the hardest team to beat because of their lack of ego.

“Penrith are actually the best-balanced team and that comes down to their ego - they’re not worried, they’re just all doing their job,” Fittler said.

“There was a really good instance there yesterday where there was a kick put back on the inside and Nathan Cleary’s diving on it.

“It’s not about ‘I should have had the ball’ it’s about ‘What can I do and how can I help and how can I get in position to help’ and when your team thinks like that it makes you so hard to be beaten.”

Luai’s halves partner Cleary was taken from the field in the second half after copping a high shot from Bulldogs player Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and the Panthers are hopeful to have him back for their Grand Final rematch against the Melbourne Storm at Panthers Stadium on Thursday night. 

“He was all good after the game, he said he was just a bit dazed when he stood up after Dallin’s hit so hopefully fingers crossed there,” Luai said.

“We’ve been really patient in the first two games so we’re looking to build pressure down on their line and when we get our chances, we need to execute.”