Luai ‘stoked’ to see the back of Maloney at Penrith
Jarome Luai could be the only person in Penrith who was happy when James Maloney quit the Panthers.
Call it belief, rather than cocky confidence, that has come naturally after winning all but one of the 10 or so grand finals he has played coming through the grades.
He has played so many he cannot remember the exact number.
The belief which quickly dispelled any doubt on the Panthers' halves pairing in the post-James Maloney era.
And that same certainty which has allowed his on-field form to be matched only by his ever-growing in-your-face demeanour.
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It's this belief that quickly dispelled any doubt on the Panthers' halves pairing post James Maloney.
Externally at least, eyebrows were raised when the Panthers shipped Maloney off to France early at the end of last year.
Then 33, Maloney was, by all estimates, the perfect foil for an up-and-coming Nathan Cleary. Instead, it has been the less experienced Luai who has helped Cleary's rise in 2020.
Penrith fans may have been taken aback by Maloney's early exit but Luai's feelings were clear.
"I was stoked to be honest," Luai said.
"I was like 'man that's my opportunity there to lock that six down'. I was so motivated to get that jersey and make it my own. People were saying it was (James 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."
Doubts regarding Maloney's departure were quickly erased. While Maloney touched the ball an average of five times more per game in his 22 games last year compared to Luai this year, the younger half has easily been the bigger attacking threat.
Luai has more than double Maloney's tackle busts plus leads the way in line breaks, line break assists and try assists. Maloney produced 15 more drop outs but also gave away 14 more penalties.
"I play instinctive and what's in front of me and just let Nath (Cleary) do the rest," Luai said. "They told me not to be anyone else and when I get the opportunity to run the footy. I know I'm ready for this game. I've backed my hard work and belief. I believe in the guys around me."
Much of the 23-year-old's belief has flowed out onto the field. Confrontation with opposition players has followed him as he quickly develops into the game's latest niggler.
"It's not a cocky confidence," Luai said. "It's just a lot of belief. I play with a lot of passion. You can't impress everyone.
"Some people love it and some people don't. I fight for every inch on the footy field.
"Those scrappy moments, they keep me in the game and help me rise. I love it.
"(The niggling antics have) developed a bit.
"The confidence has always been there but the niggly stuff I'm not sure. It's just wanting to win. I love competing against the best."
Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith is preparing for his eighth grand final. The entire Panthers squad have featured in just three. But Luai said playing in grand finals had become second nature for this crop of Panthers.
"I've played in about 10 and this one doesn't feel any different," Luai said. "I've only lost one - as a schoolboy - so you could say I have a good record."
Originally published as Luai 'stoked' to see the back of Maloney at Penrith