Nathan Cleary at centre of nasty Storm call as Jarome Luai fitness called into question

The Storm have been called to use some 'dark arts' ahead of the preliminary final.

Nathan Cleary runs the ball and Nelson Asofa-Solomona celebrating.
NRL great James Graham has called for the Storm to target Nathan Cleary (pictured left) and Jarome Luai with some 'dark arts' in their preliminary finals clash this Friday. (Getty Images)

NRL great James Graham has claimed the Storm could target Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai with some 'dark arts' with the pair carrying injuries into the preliminary final showdown. The Panthers host the Storm this weekend, but face two injury concerns leading into the game.

Cleary dislocated his finger in training on Monday, but is not at risk of missing the Friday night clash. Luai is a greater doubt with the five-eighth missing the last few weeks with a dislocated shoulder, which he injured against Parramatta in round 26.

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The Panthers are heavy favourites against Craig Bellamy's men having enjoyed a week off. The Storm were forced to battle it out in a gruelling game against the Roosters last week in a thrilling 18-13 win.

The Storm will travel to Accor stadium, but will be well aware the Panthers are facing concerns over their halves partnership. And Graham said he wouldn't be surprised if the duo were treated to some 'dark arts' treatment during the game with the NRL great claiming the Storm need to ruffle the slick Penrith outfit to have any hope of causing an upset.

“The way Melbourne are playing at the moment, it is the only way they beat them. The only way they beat them is by the dark arts of football," Graham said on NRL 360.

“You don’t go to injure the person, but you go to hurt him and if I was the Melbourne Storm, I’d make Nelson Asofa-Solomona the skipper and when Nathan Cleary comes out I’d grip it and squeeze his finger and make sure it’s alright. Cleary’s finger, Luai’s shoulder. These are all the type of things Melbourne are going to have to do if they are a chance of winning.”

Both Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary embrace.
Both Jarome Luai (pictured left) and Nathan Cleary (pictured right) have sustained injuries ahead of the clash against the Storm. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Jarome Luai a huge doubt for must-win showdown

While Luai has been named as the No.6 for the clash against the Storm, not all in the NRL community believe he will play. Phil Gould claimed on Tuesday Luai was a 'million-to-one' chance of being close to 100 per cent fit to play this Friday.

And Graham also agreed with the former Blues coach when he claimed it would be 'miraculous' if Luai took to the field. “I’ve seen Gareth Widdop in a not too dissimilar situation and he took a lot longer. It took a lot of confidence to get back on the field,” Graham added.

“You’d be naive to think that the Melbourne Storm, a team that has been known for tactics to go and exploit weaknesses (won’t target Luai).”

Reads 'NRL Finals 2023' with the cut out images of three players throwing a football - Cameron Munster, Nathan Cleary and Reece Walsh, with a backdrop of a football stadium.
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NRL reporter Dave Riccio claimed it wasn't a 'smokescreen' naming Luai in the staring XIII and the five-eighth will have a Wednesday fitness session to determine if he is available to play.

The Panthers are hoping to do what no other first grade rugby league side has done since Parramatta 40 years ago, by claiming a third-consecutive premiership in 2023. The Panthers are only one win away from a fourth-consecutive grand final appearance, having won seven of eight matches since Cleary's return.

Luai and Cleary have won 83 of 94 games they have started together in the halves since their days in under-20s, having combined for both Penrith and NSW in State of Origin.

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