Manchester: Samoa’s stars have lifted the lid on the enigma that is Jarome Luai while going into bat for the controversial playmaker ahead of their World Cup final against Australia.
Luai’s ruthless approach to winning has often rubbed rivals the wrong way and earned him a “grub” reputation, but speak to his teammates and patches and they paint a very different picture.
They describe a confident but humble young man who will do whatever it takes to win – and he’s done plenty of that lately.
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Luai has won the past two NRL premierships at Penrith, and delivered three man-of-the-match performances at this World Cup.
But teammate Stephen Crichton said it’s his play off the ball that has been most impressive, confirming Luai is one of the best sledgers in the game.
The Australians who will face Luai in the decider at Old Trafford on Sunday AEDT admit the five-eighth’s success means he has every right to throw chat.
“He talks the talk and walks the walk,” Kangaroos No. 6 Cameron Munster said.
Samoa second rower Jaydn Su’a said Luai’s confidence is an integral part of his game and shot down those who criticise his bravado.
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“He talks a fair bit but that’s what makes him so good, he’s a competitor and doesn’t like to lose,” Su’a said.
“He’s ripped into me a couple of times (in the NRL). Until that final whistle blows he’ll be into you but that’s what makes him good.
“But it’s kind of sad because the game wants characters and outspoken people and when he does do something that may flirt with the line you guys (the media) are all into him.
“So it just depends on what we want (as a game), but he’s a competitor and I love playing with him.”
Crichton revealed that Luai was the man who took it upon himself to resurrect Samoa following their embarrassing 60-6 loss to England in the tournament opener.
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He said Luai started speaking up more in team meetings and reminded the side of their potential to make history.
“(Throwing chat) is just the type of person he is but he knows how to back it up and he loves his footy and he’s having fun with it – and that’s all that matters,” Crichton said.
“The easiest way to tell yourself you’re not tired is by talking, the boys next to you and talking to the guys on the opposite side, and yeah he’s heaps good (at sledging).
“He’s a massive leader for Penrith but I think he’s really stepped up in this Samoa camp.”
Samoa coach Matt Parish, who picked Luai for the 2017 World Cup before he made his NRL debut, also defended him.
“He’s won three man of the matches in five games… he’s been exceptional, Jarome, one of our best,” Parish said.
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“His growth has been incredible, as a player, as a young man. He represented Samoa in that 2017 World Cup and hadn’t played a first-grade game.
“You could see then he was certainly a very confident young man, confident in his own ability and I think a lot of people get the wrong perception of him because he plays with that much confidence.
“But he’s a very humble young man and very proud of his heritage and his family.”
Munster has faced Luai in Origin deciders and NRL grand finals, and admitted the duo have exchanged words in the heat of battle.
“I’ve been pretty lucky that he’s usually on the other side (of the field) when we’ve been playing Origin,” Munster said.
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“He comes over every now and then and gives a little bit of cheek but I guess you can talk the talk when you walk the walk and he’s done it the last couple of years.
“He’s got Samoa to a World Cup final, which is World Cup history. So he’s been doing the walking and talking and also backing it up with premierships.
“He’s playing some really good footy and he’s very confident and it’s showing on the footy field at the moment.
“I sledge back here and there, maybe when we score I might give the old ‘that was all you’ but that’s about as far as I go just in case I say the wrong thing to someone and I end up on my back.”
Australian hooker Ben Hunt said he rarely acknowledged sledging from anyone, let alone Luai, unless it was quality chat.
“I’m a bit like Munster, I haven’t had a lot of run ins with Luai,” he said
“You see things on the field and you see players react to him so he’s obviously had a little niggle at someone, but I’m not a guy that usually responds to things like that.
“I usually let it go unless it’s pretty clever – then I have a giggle.”