13 Nov 2022
Luai insists Cleary friendship will go out the window in final
The Penrith Panthers five-eighth will face his NRL halves partner after a player of the match display helped Samoa beat England in the semi-final
By Josh Graham
Samoa star Jarome Luai said there is no room for friends on the footy field ahead of his match-up with Penrith halves partner Nathan Cleary in the Rugby League World Cup final against Australia.
Luai’s dancing feet helped orchestrate Samoa’s stunning 27-26 semi-final win over England with Stephen Crichton’s dramatic 84th minute golden point field goal deciding a last four classic at the Emirates.
Samoa are the first tier two side to ever make the final while significantly more history awaits if they can dethrone the back-to-back champions at Old Trafford.
Luai and Cleary could have been wearing the green and gold jersey together before the former, who is also eligible for New Zealand, pledged his allegiance to Samoa.
And after winning successive NRL titles for the Panthers, they will be in opposing camps for the first time since their junior days on Saturday.
Luai said: “It’s going to be awesome. We are competitors through and through, it’s going to be a great battle against one of my boys.
“But out there, there’s no friends on the field, there’s only brothers and enemies. I’m always going to look at that the same way so I can’t wait to get out there against him.
“We grew up in the same comp, in the younger grades I played for St Mary’s and he played for Brothers but it wasn’t on a really high scale and it will be pretty big stakes this time round.”
When pressed Luai struggled to recall the last time he faced off against his great mate but there will be no forgetting this weekend’s showpiece fixture.
Cleary has seen off competition from the experienced Daly Cherry-Evans to make the scrum-half slot his own under Mal Meninga and is one of three Panthers in the Kangaroo ranks.
Second row Liam Martin’s thunderous display earned him the player of the match award in the 16-14 semi-final win over the Kiwis on Friday night while Isaah Yeo is widely seen as the world’s best lock.
But it was at Penrith where Luai’s journey to pulling on the blue shirt of Samoa instead started, with the game’s superstars of Pacific Island heritage inspired by the trailblazing of Tonga captain Jason Taumalolo, who switched from New Zealand in 2017.
Matt Parish’s six Panthers - Luai and Crichton are joined by Brian To’o, Spencer Leniu, Taylan May and Izack Tago – have done wonders for the international game by inspiring thousands of Samoan kids back home and across the world but their five-eighth insists the work is far from over with one final hurdle remaining.
He added: “It started at Penrith for me. We made a commitment to each other that when the right time came, we were all going to play for Samoa and we’ve done something really special but the job is not done yet.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets