State of Origin great Steve 'Blocker' Roach said he would stick with the current combination of Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary for the Blues in Game I and use Nicho Hynes off the bench. Debate rages on between New South Wales fans over whether Brad Fittler will pick reigning Dally M winner Hynes to replace Penrith five-eighth Luai for the Blues' first game against the Maroons.
Hynes has received the backing of many in the NRL world after he carried over his 2022 form into the current season. Hynes bounced back from his first poor showing this year to help kick the the Sharks into a dominant victory over Manly on the weekend.
However, on Friday night, Luai provided a timely reminder to Blues selectors about the quality he possesses after a man-of-the-match display in Penrith's 48-4 trouncing of the Roosters. Luai showed why he is Fittler's incumbent five-eighth having paired seamlessly with Nathan Cleary to demolish the haphazard Roosters.
And Luai's latest performance may have just won him back his starting role in the Blues side with Roach sticking with the club halves pairing. Roach spoke on Triple M ahead of the Sharks game on the weekend and said the first Origin match is often the most chaotic and Luai's experience in the arena could be the difference when Fittler picks the side.
“I think Nicho Hynes is a freak, there’s no doubts about that, he has the reins at Cronulla to control and run the whole narrative,” Roach said. “When you look at strong personalities, Cleary for mine is out and out probably in the top two players in the competition and he runs the show at Origin.
“He’s probably been improving at Origin level and Luai has been his partner. Me, the way I think, I would go for Luai and probably would (have Hynes on the bench).”
Roach said it a gamble having Hynes in the side when Game I can be won through experience. “To throw someone into that arena in a must-win game in Origin I. I wouldn’t be surprised if Freddy goes with him on the bench," he added.
Jarome Luai puts his hand up for Origin selection
While Luai hasn't been in the greatest form ahead of Origin, he stepped up at the right time and earned praise from the Blues' No.7 and club teammate Cleary. "I thought he was the best player on the field," the Penrith skipper confidently declared.
"That's my boy. I've always enjoyed playing alongside him and to see him do his thing tonight was pretty cool. He just had that swagger about him. I love him when he's like that."
The performance could hardly have come at a better time for Luai, whose spot as NSW five-eighth has appeared under serious threat from the in-form Hynes. Few players in the game polarise like the energetic and competitive Luai but after Friday night's performance, little doubt will remain as to his ability to control NSW's left edge if called upon again.
Cleary hoped the masterclass had put Luai's detractors on notice. "A lot of people want to talk about him negatively, so I hope there's a lot talking about him positively tonight. He earned that," Cleary added.
"Some of the criticism he cops ... It's the game we play and he know that, but you talk about statements, I thought he put on a pretty good one.
"(The criticism) is frustrating but at the end of the day, we can't control it. You've just got to control the things you can control and I don't think anything's going to change in that regard."
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