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'I'll drive what Madge wants': Luai relishing Blues leadership role

Jarome Luai no longer wants to be just one of the boys and a surprise phone call from new Blues coach Michael Maguire confirmed to the star playmaker that others have noticed.

Luai, who has been known to arrive in previous Origin camps with a boom box on his shoulder, is now a member of the NSW leadership team and it’s a role he is relishing.

A gifted rugby league talent, Luai’s flair and cheekiness are what many people notice about the Penrith five-eighth, but Maguire saw that he was also a leader.

Jarome Luai at Blues training in the Blue Mountains
Jarome Luai at Blues training in the Blue Mountains ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

After arriving in camp on Monday, Luai received a phone call from Maguire inviting him to join new Blues captain Jake Trbojevic, vice-captain Isaah Yeo, lock Cameron McInnes, halfback Nicho Hynes and Broncos prop Payne Haas at a leadership meeting.

“I've got to know Madge, even before the camp, and I think he sees that in me, which is really special for myself,” Luai said. “He didn't really say much. I think he just got that vibe, which I'm really grateful for.

“It was a little surprising for myself to get that call and I was stoked about it. I think I can really take this role on and learn from the other boys in the leadership group, and be a leader.”

It’s a dramatic turnaround for Luai's standing in the Blues team after being dropped for the final match of last year’s series.

The 27-year-old said he had reflected on that setback and decided he needed to take on more responsibility in camp as a senior player after making seven Origin appearances in the last three series.

Jarome Luai's journey to a Blues jersey

“That's an area where I want to get better at, and not only lead with my footy brain and my voice, but also my actions as well,” Luai said.

“Being a half and playing a lot of big games, I do know footy well and I think the energy I just bring, I want to help other players become their best and to reach their full potential.

“That's a big part of my game and something I want to be remembered for.”

Having helped Penrith to three consecutive premierships and Samoa to a World Cup final in 2022, Luai’s ability to steer teams around on the field is proven but he wants to be a leader off the field as well.

Inside Camp: Brian To'o

“I think being a part of the leadership group has really motivated me and I've just come to camp willing to lay it all on the line and willing to work and make sure I'm at my best,” he said.

“I think I've been a victim of coming into camp and just enjoying my time, soaking it all up.

“I think it's important to do that but also knowing that it's a time to go harder and step it up a gear, because this is the toughest arena in our game, so that's the mindset I've come in with.

“I don't want to just laze around or take my foot off the pedal, and enjoy myself, but step it up a notch and really drive what Madge wants in this team, and what we can get out of this.”

Luai and Hynes trained together for the first time on Thursday as the Sharks halfback dispelled doubts about his fitness after being forced out of last Saturday night's match against the Panthers at half time with a calf injury.

Hynes sat out NSW's first session on Wednesday but had been involved in planning meetings with Luai, rookie fullback Dylan Edwards and hooker Reece Robson.

Inside Camp: Stephen Crichton

“We've done a lot of game planning off the field, so it was good to get him out there and start forming those combinations," Luai said.

“That is important because that's where the membrane of the side is – in that spine.

“We've done a lot of planning off the field, and it's been really clear and really straightforward, and I've really enjoyed those meetings.

“It was just about implementing that up there in the game on the paddock.”

Meanwhile, Maguire announced that Yeo would be vice-captain and call the shots when Trbojevic is off the field.

"After watching Yeoie get around camp, he's a born leader," Maguire said.

“He is extremely hungry in representing NSW. Everyone wants to play for and with him.

"It's nice to see that I've got two really strong characters in both those boys.

"Obviously, there'll be an interchange between those guys at some stage on the field, so I've got two really strong characters and leaders on the field."


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.