Brisbane full-back Reece Walsh has revealed he sent a text of support to Penrith’s pantomime “villain” Jarome Luai during this year’s State of Origin series after the pair clashed.
Walsh will line up for the Broncos against No.6 Luai of the Panthers in Sunday’s NRL grand final with nothing but respect for his opponent, despite the heated confrontations in the first two games of the Origin series.
NSW five-eighth Luai hit out at his critics on social media after winning the second game of the series 32-6 against Queensland. It later emerged that his reaction had been fueled by death threats he had received.
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Both men are young fathers and that means a lot to Walsh. He was saddened that Luai was targeted on social media and this sparked a heartwarming reaction from him.
“I sent him a message after Game II (of the Origin series) to see how he was doing and to wish him well with everything,” Walsh said.
“When you go on the field you do everything for the team. When you get out, it’s something completely different.
“I think people sometimes forget that we are normal people with young families to go home to.
“If I leave here and go back to my daughter (Leila), she won’t know which game I lost. She doesn’t care about that. All she cares about is whether she gets chicken nuggets.”
Walsh, who was mobbed by Broncos fans at a fan day on Monday, led the media in an extensive interview in which the pair’s on-field feud was a hot topic.
The Broncos’ high-flyer said Luai was the type of player he would like to go to battle with.
Luai blamed Queensland goalkeeper Walsh for pulling his hair in the Maroons’ 26-18 Origin 1 win in Adelaide, reiterating after the game that Walsh “ran away” afterwards.
In Brisbane, Walsh and Luai were both sent off in the second game of the series and were later fined for lashing out following an argument in which the Panthers star headbutted the 21-year-old Bronco.
“It will be exciting. “I obviously have a lot of respect for him,” Walsh said of the impending clash between the two.
“He is a young father and is playing with an injury at the moment. That’s pretty brave.
“(Luai) plays with his heart on his sleeve. They’re the people you want to go to war with. You know they will give you everything.
“I, too, wear my heart on my sleeve.
“Is he getting under my skin? No, he doesn’t do that. It’s fun to compete against him in these fights.”
Walsh and Luai have a lot in common in the way they play the game.
Both explosive. Both passionate. Walsh often stuck out his tongue and was known to wag it. He was told that they are both pantomime villains that fans crave.
“I think he draws attention to the game. He has the right to do so. He has won the last two competitions and is making the places unsafe,” said Walsh.