Luai’s spectacular NSW audition as Panthers belt Sharks

Jasper Bruce |

A Jarome Luai masterclass helped power the Panthers to a crushing 42-0 win over the Sharks.
A Jarome Luai masterclass helped power the Panthers to a crushing 42-0 win over the Sharks.

Jarome Luai has saved his best performance in recent memory for the eve of NSW’s State of Origin team announcement, powering Penrith back to form with a 42-0 thrashing of fellow NRL heavyweights Cronulla.

But the night could hardly have gone worse for Luai’s would-be Blues teammate Nicho Hynes, who entered Saturday’s game as injury-hit NSW’s presumptive halfback but departed before halftime with calf tightness.

Dropped after Origin II last year, Blues hopeful Luai pulled all the levers as the Penrith machine clicked ominously back into gear after last week’s shock loss to the Warriors.

NSW coach Michael Maguire watched from the Shark Park stands as Luai orchestrated the first three tries in the kind of suffocating performance that has become the three-time reigning premiers’ trademark.

The ladder-leading Sharks had lost only one of 10 games to begin the season, but never looked likely to trouble the Panthers.

For his part, Hynes sprayed two kicks out on the full midway through the first half and then left for a head injury assessment (HIA), helpless to prevent Penrith from streaking to a 28-0 lead at the break.

Hynes passed his HIA, ordered after he copped Isaah Yeo’s knee in the head, but remained off the field with tightness in the calf that has hampered him in recent weeks.

Nicho Hynes leaves the field.
Nicho Hynes leaves the field for a head injury assessment against the Panthers. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

Maguire will desperately hope Hynes’ latest niggle is minor as his options run thin for the June 5 series opener, with would-be halfbacks Nathan Cleary, Mitch Moses and Adam Reynolds already injured.

Replacing Cleary at the Panthers, Luai’s game management was so confident the seven-time Blues five-eighth may have put his hand up for the No.7 jersey that Hynes may need to vacate through injury.

Luai targeted Sione Katoa with his kicking game all night, and after only four minutes the Sharks winger spilled a torpedo in the red zone. 

James Fisher-Harris cruised over at close range in the set that followed.

Luai had the Panthers’ second all on his own, stepping inside Tom Hazelton and Will Kennedy for a slick individual try to help the Panthers to a 12-0 lead after nine minutes.

At 18-0, the game was fast slipping out of the Sharks’ reach after Luai threw a flat pass off a scrum for Paul Alamoti’s try, having extracted another error out of Katoa with his boot.

In a rattled and error-prone performance, it was hard for the Sharks’ Origin hopefuls to stake any claim for selection, though Craig Fitzgibbon’s side did at least stem the bleeding after the break.

Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards was back on song to make one last pitch for James Tedesco’s Blues fullback jersey. He crashed over for a try on the right edge and finished with a game-high 251 metres.