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Luai lifts lid on "cool" Cleary connection

There is a simple way Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues five-eighth Jarome Luai communicates with his halfback Nathan Cleary despite the deafening noise of a packed State of Origin stadium.

“He just gives me the look,” Luai told, after the Blues finished a high-octane session at the Ignite HQ Centre of Excellence at Sydney Olympic Park ahead of Origin I to be played across the road at Accor Stadium on Wednesday.

“He doesn’t have to say anything. Sometimes it’s a flick of the head or his shoulder or he rolls his eyes a certain way, or he just stares straight at me.

“After all the games we’ve played together of all the years, I know the look.

“You can’t hear your own teammates, but I know what he’s (Cleary) thinking, if that makes sense.

“I know when he’s going to do something – it’s a pretty cool connection.”

The pair only played the first two games of last year’s Origin series, missing Game Three with injuries – Cleary with a shoulder and Luai a knee complaint.

But the 25-year-old felt a little more at ease arriving at the 2022 team hotel in Coogee, remembering all the pressure that was on him as a debutant 12 months ago.

“I didn’t really want to think about the pressure too much last year,” he said.

“I just wanted to live in the moment – it was a big opportunity for me to debut.”

His parents - Martin Luai and Raumako Rai – presented him with his Game One jersey in Townsville.

“It was an eye-opener watching my old man in tears… I didn’t want to let them down,” Luai said.

That is why his debut jersey from that match is now with his parents and not on his own wall at home.

And just because he’s played in the last two NRL grand finals, winning the 2021 Premiership with the Penrith Panthers, doesn’t mean Luai is able to rid himself of any pre-game nerves on the big occasions.

“Not at all,” he said.

“When we get to the field, I normally sit under the goal post and stay there for about 10 minutes just reflecting on my job and my role for the team – that’s the down time for myself.”

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.