Cleary hopes Luai's masterclass silences doubters
Penrith captain Nathan Cleary hopes Jarome Luai's masterclass against the Sydney Roosters will silence his doubters after weeks of speculations as to the five-eighth's State of Origin credentials.
Luai has spent the opening months of the 2023 season readjusting to life without outside man Viliame Kikau, who vacated the Panthers' left edge to join Canterbury this year.
Scott Sorensen, Luke Garner and Liam Martin have all spent time filling Kikau's old spot on Luai's edge, which has also endured disruption in the outside backs following an injury to centre Izack Tago.
In Friday night's defeat of the Roosters, Luai finally hit his straps, marshalling his teammates with aplomb as the Panthers established a 24-0 half-time lead.
Luai had a hand in three of the Panthers' first four tries and scored one of his own in the second half as the reigning premiers ran out 48-4 victors.
"I thought he was the best player on the field," Cleary said of his NSW and Panthers halves partner.
"That's my boy. I've always enjoyed playing alongside him and to see him do his thing tonight was pretty cool. He just had that swagger about him. I love him when he's like that."
The performance could hardly have come at a better time for Luai, whose spot as NSW five-eighth has appeared under serious threat from the in-form Nicho Hynes this season.
Few players in the game polarise like the energetic and competitive Luai but after Friday night's performance, little doubt will remain as to his ability to control NSW's left edge if called upon again.
Cleary hoped the masterclass had put Luai's detractors on notice.
"A lot of people want to talk about him negatively, so I hope there's a lot talking about him positively tonight. He earned that," Cleary said.
"Some of the criticism he cops ... It's the game we play and he know that, but you talk about statements, I thought he put on a pretty good one.
"(The criticism) is frustrating but at the end of the day, we can't control it. You've just got to control the things you can control and I don't think anything's going to change in that regard."
Luai was pleased with the Panthers' win but denied suggestions he had flicked the switch just as Origin selection pressure began to heat up.
"People are saying I'm more motivated to play well now because Origin's around the corner but I always want to play well," he said.
"It's a privilege to play right here with my brothers.
"I just think every game is an important game for myself to play well."