From NSW villain to most important Blue: Jarome Luai

Scott Bailey and Jasper Bruce |

Jarome Luai has gone from NSW’s villain to Michael Maguire’s most important Blue, after the first-time coach gambled on an untested spine for game one of State of Origin.

Maguire on Sunday night handed out six debuts for the June 5 series-opener in Sydney, with the most notable being Dylan Edwards at fullback in place of James Tedesco.

Only six Blues are left from game three last year, with a combination of injuries and poor form handing Maguire a difficult first assignment as NSW coach.

It is in the spine where the rawness of the Blues shows most.

Luai has played seven Origins for NSW and was part of the 2021 series victory at five-eighth.  

He was dropped after game two last year, having been sent off for headbutting Queensland’s Reece Walsh.

More used to playing second fiddle to Nathan Cleary, Luai has shown signs of growth without his teammate beside him at Penrith in recent weeks.

He will need to step up again in Origin, given the Blues’ fresh look.

Jarome Luai is sent to the bin.
Luai was sent off for headbutting Queensland’s Reece Walsh in last year’s Origin II. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

Edwards has no Origin experience at fullback but has won his way into the side after going from under-rated to a genuine star in Penrith’s NRL three-peat.

Halfback Nicho Hynes has played only 12 minutes of Origin football after coming off the bench at centre in game one last year, before being dropped for the last two matches.

And hooker Reece Robson has beaten out Api Koroisau, after starting only once previously in Origin and coming off the bench on one other occasion.

All of which makes Luai’s experience crucial.

“I want to make amends for (last year),” Luai said. 

“You want to be leaving the jersey in a better position than you found it. That’s what I want to do now.”

Cowboys hooker Reece Robson.
Cowboys hooker Reece Robson has been called up by new Blues coach Maguire. (Scott Radford-Chisholm/AAP PHOTOS)

Luai has made no secret of the fact Cleary has helped him in recent weeks, and it is likely the first-choice Blues No.7 will do likewise over the next fortnight.

“Having the best player in the NRL (to ask for advice) definitely helps,” Luai said.

“I ask him to watch my every move and give me tips on what he looks for … and when to do stuff.

“We’re different players, and we’re good at different things – I don’t want to try to be someone I’m not – but it’s more mental things, and team management in that role, which is something I can get better at.”

Hynes’s calf will remain a point of interest for NSW after the Sharks halfback underwent scans on Sunday.

There are fears he will have a limited training load before game one, with Andrew Johns on Sunday calling for Luke Keary to be picked instead.

Keary remains in Maguire’s squad as a reserve, with he or 18th man Matt Burton available if Hynes does not recover sufficiently.