Jarome Luai’s shoulder has endured its toughest test as fifth-and-eighth-placed Penrith survived the Panthers’ NRL preliminary final win over the Storm without re-injury.
Luai ensured a safe return for the Panthers in their 38-4 win over Melbourne as they secured their fourth consecutive place in the Grand Final next Sunday night.
Penrith’s dominance allowed Luai to leave the field with 22 minutes remaining on Friday after showing no signs of last month’s disruption that threatened to end his season early.
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The 26-year-old did not require any ice or special attention to the joint after the game, another good sign for the Panthers.
After the game, Luai said his shoulder felt good as he thanked the Panthers coaching staff.
“Yeah, it’s really good, it’s never felt better,” he told Nine.
“Just one more game, I’m just grateful to the coach for giving me the opportunity to come out and call me to see if I was good or not and I know I could do the job.”
Luai admitted he didn’t know if taking him off the field early was part of the Panthers’ game plan.
“I’m not entirely sure, you can’t really plan the finals, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he replied.
Panthers co-captain Isaah Yeo praised Luai’s performance.
“(You) wouldn’t have known he hurt his shoulder,” he said on Nine.
“There was pressure. From the moment it happened he said it would come back. I don’t know if he expresses it with positive energy, but he was outstanding tonight and throughout the week.”
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said Luai was always confident he would return for the preliminary final.
“He is very brave. Not just physically, but mentally, given the way he handled this whole injury,” Cleary said during the postgame press conference.
“From the moment he left that night against the Eels he said all the positive things and then the next day.
“Everyone was talking about this week, but there wasn’t much doubt in our minds about it.
“There is obviously some risk management involved.
“But he just gave 100 percent in everything and I think that certainly helped him to be able to play like he did tonight.”
Rugby league immortal Andrew Johns was in disbelief at Luai’s ability to return so quickly and play such a good game after the injury.
“Jarome Luai’s performance tonight blew me away,” he said on Nine.
“I was really surprised he played…Four weeks ago we saw how distressed he was leaving the field when he dislocated his shoulder. He didn’t just play, he was everywhere.
“He was strong defensively during the preparatory attempts. I thought they were hiding him on the wing. “
Penrith will likely head into the decider against Brisbane or the Warriors in better form than they have in the last three grand finals, with Friday night’s win being the club’s biggest ever win in a final.
With Friday night’s win over the Storm, Penrith became just the fifth team to reach four consecutive grand finals since end-of-season play-offs became mandatory in 1954.
The Panthers are also on track to become the first team since Parramatta in 1981/83 to win three titles in a row.
– With AAP