Luai sets the scene with ‘Penrith Bulldogs’ sledge

Scott Bailey |

Jarome Luai (l) will come up against good mate Stephen Crichton (r) when Penrith meet the Bulldogs.
Jarome Luai (l) will come up against good mate Stephen Crichton (r) when Penrith meet the Bulldogs.

Jarome Luai sees more than just a hint of the Panthers in the club he jokingly calls the Penrith Bulldogs.

“You just see the way they defend,” Luai told AAP.

“Ciro (Cameron Ciraldo) is really big on defence, and if you know your footy, you know defence wins games.”

Ciraldo is, perhaps, the most ingrained Penrith man to leave the Panthers in recent years.

He was the initial coach of Penrith’s golden generation in the U20s, before becoming the defensive coach as the first-grade side rocketed into heavyweight status.

In his second year at Belmore, Ciraldo has Canterbury ranked fourth in the NRL for defence.

They haven’t sat that high this far into a season since the Des Hasler days in 2017.

Ciraldo said in their commitment to defence and each other, the Bulldogs were beginning to resemble his former club.

“The similarities there are that they’re good people who want to work hard and that’s what I’m feeling right now,” he said.

“Guys work hard every day in training, they worked really hard over a long pre-season and I think you can see that level of fitness and commitment when we do defend, but you can also see how connected they are as a group.

“They work hard for each other. It’s not always perfect but they’re there to save each other’s arses. We want to see more of that.”

In Luai’s view, there was no mistaking Ciraldo’s influence on the Bulldogs’ new-found defensive resolve.

“You can definitely see with the way their defending that Ciro has got his hands all over that,” he said.

It won’t shock anyone to learn that Luai is looking forward to facing off with Stephen Crichton, Viliame Kikau, Matt Burton and Jaeman Salmon on Friday night.

He expects plenty of lip with Crichton, a man he has marked up against in opposed sessions for years at Penrith.

“The Penrith Bulldogs? Looking forward to it,” he quipped this week.

“That’s footy. That’s what it’s about, going up against your mates. There are no mates on the field, and you go out there to get two points.”

But on a serious level, he also knows he will be one of those ex-Panthers next year.

And he hopes he can have the same impact at Wests Tigers as Crichton and company are starting to have at the Bulldogs.

“I’ll deal with that when it gets here. But it looks like they’re enjoying their time over there,” Luai said.

“They’ve created a great culture at the Bulldogs,” Luai said.

“The energy looks great. They’re playing great footy as well. Hopefully I can transition the same way as they did.”