Luai stakes Origin claim as Panthers thrash Roosters
Jarome Luai has emphatically staked his claim for State of Origin selection with a man-of-the-match performance that helped Penrith rediscover their clinical best with a record-breaking 48-4 win over the Sydney Roosters.
The Roosters' loss was their biggest-ever against Penrith and, to make matters worse, the side lost prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and five-eighth Joey Manu to game-ending injuries.
Without Viliame Kikau by his side this year, Luai has struggled to spark the Panthers' left edge as consistently as in their two premiership seasons and had been a serious chance to lose his NSW five-eighth spot to the in-form Nicho Hynes.
With time running out for Luai to reassert his Origin credentials, the 26-year-old put on a masterclass at BlueBet Stadium on Friday night.
Marshalling the left edge, Luai had a hand in three of the four tries that gave the Panthers a 24-0 halftime lead they never looked like surrendering.
"We started really well, with plenty of intensity," Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said.
"The best part about it was that we kept it up. We came out after half-time and again dominated field position.
"I just thought our defence was something like what we want it to look like against a pretty good team. Very happy."
The Roosters managed to stem the bleeding early in the second half but a surprise crossfield kick from lock Isaah Yeo set up Brian To'o for a try that reignited the Panthers, who remained on the throttle for the rest of the game.
"We got beaten again on a lot of the effort areas," Roosters coach Trent Robinson said.
"We got an incredible lesson tonight.
"That's the beauty of being in this comp, you always get a chance to turn it around and we have to do that quickly. But we've got to find it, less so in details and more so in effort, more in attitude."
Kikau's replacement, Scott Sorensen, had the night of his life, helping set up one try and crossing for two of his own.
Before Friday, Sorensen had scored five tries in his 90-game career.
After Sorensen opened the scoring, Luai held the ball up, skipping at the defence to create an overlap and then passing on to his second-rower, whose line break led to a Dylan Edwards four-pointer.
Luai was only getting started and his short ball to Sorensen confirmed the first double of the big man's career.
Just before halftime, Luai broke through Victor Radley and Brandon Smith to give stand-in centre Tyrone Peachey his third try in four games since re-joining the Panthers.
"We just opened up at the back end of the half and we're just not moving for each other," Robinson said.
Peachey grabbed another try in the second half when Penrith went into party mode.
Luai's running game was the most dangerous it has been this season and helped him cross for his first try of the season as the final minutes ticked down.
His performance throws the gauntlet down for Hynes, who will need to produce something special against Manly on Sunday to knock the Panther off his perch.
Waerea-Hargreaves left the field with a pectoral injury in the opening 20 minutes but the injury to Manu will likely cause the bigger headache for coach Robinson.
Manu needed assistance leaving the field midway through the second half after rolling his ankle entering a tackle and is no guarantee to be replaced by out-of-favour half Sam Walker, who injured his knee at training and is likely to miss one to two weeks.