Luai eyes even bigger season for Panthers

If his early numbers are any indication, Penrith five-eighth Jarome Luai could have an even bigger 2021 NRL season.

NATHAN CLEARY of the Panthers kicks during the NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Pepper Stadium Sydney, Australia.
NATHAN CLEARY of the Panthers kicks during the NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Pepper Stadium Sydney, Australia. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

Jarome Luai became a genuine NRL star last season but the Penrith five-eighth is already producing better numbers than the ones that made him such a standout.

The confident young half laughs when asked if he was concerned about second-year syndrome and the Panthers losing so much experience from the grand final side.

"It was funny to us," he said.

"Obviously we lost some of the older boys and are forever grateful of what they brought to the club but we learned really fast what it takes to be great in this league.

"We've got a lot of good leaders here who are doing a really good job for us."

Only now, Luai is one of them.

In four games this season he has set up six tries - four more than at the same point last year after the Panthers had beaten Sydney Roosters, St George Illawarra, Warriors and drawn with Newcastle.

As expected, he's copping more attention on the left edge and is making an average of three more tackles a game than he did last year, but his missed tackles have gone down from 2.8 per game to just 1.7.

His average running metres have gone from 67 per game in 2020 to 96 so far this season.

"(Viliame Kikau) is making my job easier, everyone can see how good he is playing, not only in attack but defensively as well," he said.

"He's working hard off the ball and is doing a lot for me and my confidence.

"I'm happy with how our edge is going so far."

Penrith's victory over Melbourne in round three showed Luai is more than just a deputy to NSW halfback Nathan Cleary, who was rested after suffering a concussion the week before.

It bodes well for the NSW Origin hopeful who was brought into the squad last year but not used by coach Brad Fittler in the series loss to Queensland.

On Friday night the Panthers' hot start will be tested once again when they host Canberra, whom they beat 30 years ago in the famous 1991 grand final.

The Panthers are holding a reunion of all the players from the premiership side at BlueBet Stadium and want to do their predecessors proud.

"They like that tough style of footy," Luai said of the Raiders, who have won three of four to start the year.

"We haven't played them with Josh Hodgson in a while and he brings a lot to that footy side.

"We'll have to lock down that middle."