Luai ready to wear No.7 for NSW amid halves crisis

Scott Bailey and Jasper Bruce |

Jarome Luai says he’s ready to play halfback for NSW after his starring role at No.7 for Penrith.
Jarome Luai says he’s ready to play halfback for NSW after his starring role at No.7 for Penrith.

Jarome Luai has declared he is ready to take over as NSW No.7 as first-time coach Michael Maguire weighs up several crucial calls for the State of Origin series opener.

Facing a crisis in the halves and a long injury list, Maguire has spent Sunday awaiting injury news on Cronulla star Nicho Hynes and his problematic calf.

A call must also be made at fullback, where Dylan Edwards could make his Origin debut at the expense of long-time captain James Tedesco.

Other debutants are also likely in the backline, while Latrell Mitchell is available for selection after avoiding a ban for a hip-drop tackle in South Sydney’s win over Parramatta on Saturday night.

But the Blues’ main issues remain in the halves.

Hynes has had scans on his calf brought forward to Sunday afternoon, after he failed to get through Cronulla’s 42-0 loss to Penrith on Saturday.

Even if he is declared fit, it is expected he would require a modified training load ahead of the June 5 series opener.

That could spell problems for the Blues, who are already without their top choice at halfback – the injured Nathan Cleary – with potential replacement Mitch Moses having not featured in the NRL since late March.

Hynes
Blues coach Michael Maguire is anxiously awaiting the result of a scan on Nicho Hynes’ injured calf. (Jason O’BRIEN/AAP PHOTOS)

One option would be to play Luai at No.7 after he starred in the role in Penrith’s flogging of Cronulla, with one of Matt Burton, Luke Keary or Cody Walker dropping in at No.6.

“I don’t care (if I play six or seven),” Luai said.

“I just want that Blues jersey. I want my last name on my back again.

“I’m confident, I’ve always backed myself in any situation. A lot of good players are going to be picked in that side.”

Luai is traditionally a left-side player, as are Burton, Walker and Keary.

But the three-time premiership winner said he would have no issue moving to the right for NSW, after being dropped during last year’s series.

“All I’ve had to do at Penrith is take control of that left side,” Luai said.

“But I’m a team player, if they need me to play right, I’ll play right. Nothing changes really.

“I’m a left-footer, so that’s why I’m pretty comfortable on that left side in terms of kicking and stuff like that – but I love a challenge.”

Another option for Maguire, albeit unlikely, could be to bring Moses into the squad after he stepped up for the Blues in Cleary’s absence last year.

Mitch Moses
A left-field option for NSW would be to take a chance on Eels star Mitch Moses. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

The Parramatta No.7 has not played since breaking his foot on March 24, but is expected to be fit to return for the Eels next week

NSW have other injury concerns, with Liam Martin sent for scans on his hamstring on Sunday morning.

Penrith are confident the injury is not serious, and that the second-rower will be fine to line up at Accor Stadium in Sydney on June 5.

POSSIBLE NSW SIDE FOR GAME ONE:

James Tedesco, Brian To’o, Jesse Ramien, Stephen Crichton, Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii, Jarome Luai, Luke Keary, Payne Haas, Apisai Koroisau, Jake Trbojevic, Angus Crichton, Liam Martin, Isaah Yeo. Bench: Matt Burton, Haumole Olakau’atu, Stefano Utoikamanu, Cameron McInnes.

AAP