22nd October 2020, 10:30 | nrl
Panthers rookie Jarome Luai has admitted on the eve of Sunday’s NRL grand final that he was “stoked” when James Maloney left for Catalans as he wanted to make the Penrith No.6 jersey his own.
Luia, who had played five-eighth in just four of his 17 NRL appearances before this season, has had such a stunning rise he had to reaffirm his commitment to Samoa after being linked to NSW State of Origin selection.
With Maloney initially contracted until the end of this season, Luia was targeted by South Sydney but he wanted to stay at Penrith and was happy when the veteran sought an early release to join Catalans.
“I was stoked, to be honest,” Luai said. “I was like ‘man that’s my opportunity there to lock that No.6 [jersey] down’. I was so motivated to get that jersey and make it my own.
“People were saying it was his [Maloney’s] jersey but I wanted to make it Jarome Luai’s. Hopefully I’ve done that.
“You have to earn the right through performances and not words. I just wanted to make the most of an opportunity.”
The 22-year-old has formed a combination with Nathan Cleary to rival that of any halves pairing in the NRL this season and is now just one win against the Melbourne Storm from premiership glory.
With the second youngest roster in the NRL after Brisbane, the Panthers squad boasts just three players with grand final experience – James Tamou, Api Koroisau and Zane Tetevano.
Tamou, who will captain Penrith for the final time before joining Wests Tigers next season, revealed he could have been forced out of the club earlier if Trent Merrin hadn’t agreed to move to Leeds last year.
“I think it was out of me and him,” Tamou said. “Rolling into pre-season, I got a phone call from Mez saying he got the tap on the shoulder.
“It wasn’t a relief because he is one of my good mates and it’s sad that it happened, but that was a thing in my mind – like the same thing could happen.”
Penrith are aiming for their 18th consecutive victory in the grand final - just one less than the longest winning streak in the premiership’s 112-year history.
However, they are up against a club that has featured in four of the last five grand finals and nine since 2006.
The grand final will be Cameron Smith’s eighth premiership decider and it is widely believed it could be his last match after being chaired from Suncorp Stadium by Storm team-mates last weekend.
Smith insists he has yet to decide whether to play on or retire but the former Australian captain has ruled out a return to State of Origin, with the NSW and Queensland teams to be named after the grand final.
Watch Melbourne Storm face Penrith Panthers in the 2020 NRL Grand Final from 8:25am on Sky Sports Arena & Mix on Sunday 25 October.
You can also watch Brisbane Broncos face Sydney Roosters in the 2020 NRL Women's Grand Final from 5am on Sky Sports Mix on Sunday 25 October.