Sunday Territorian

Panthers playmaker Luai out to end his idol Marshall’s run to a


IT was the famous flick pass that ignited the fire in a young Jarome Luai in his quest for NRL stardom.

Now, 16 years later, Luai is ready to play the villain by breaking the heart of his childhood hero, South Sydney veteran Benji Marshall, in Sunday night’s NRL grand final at Suncorp Stadium. Luai goes into the historic Queensland decider under pressure to deliver, with statistics showing the Panthers five-eighth has made just one line break in his last 15 games and 1193 minutes of football.

But there is a multi-faceted motivation for Luai to step up on the code’s biggest stage.

There is the enduring pain of last year’s crushing 26-20 loss to Melbourne in last year’s grand final. There is the personal anguish surroundin­g Luai’s father Martin, who was sent to a Brisbane jail four years ago for drug traffickin­g, spending time behind bars in the same city that could deliver his son a premiershi­p ring at Suncorp Stadium.

And then there is his personal showdown with Benji, the one-time hero who has become both roommate and rival. Eight months after playing with Marshall in the MaoriIndig­enous All Stars clash in Townsville, Luai will attempt to inflict grand-final heartbreak on Benji, who returns to the big dance almost two decades after his premiershi­p heroics at Wests Tigers in 2005.

Luai was eight years old when

Marshall, aged 20, unleashed the flick-pass wizardry that won the hearts of a generation of aspiring NRL players.

“It’s pretty amazing how things have evolved with Benji,” Luai said ahead of Sunday night’s grand final. “He was my hero.

“I remember the 2005 grand final and it was nostalgic, it was probably the first game of footy I really remember watching. Seeing his flick pass, I clearly remember the moment.

“I was out camping with my family at the time and our next door neighbours had the game on. They were massive Wests Tigers fans and in that moment, his flick pass inspired me to want to make it in the NRL.

“I played touch football growing up, so I would watch his highlights before my games. He was a big part of my early footy days. It’s pretty freaky to think that I was a kid at the time (of the 2005 grand final) … and now I will be facing Benji in a grand final.”

It would be easy for Luai to be overawed by a meeting with the playmaking master who has morphed into Souths’ interchang­e supersub, but a brief stint in All Stars camp has peeled back the players of the Marshall mystique. “I had a bit to do with Benji in Maori camp this year,” Luai said. “I got to play with him and see what kind of guy he was.

“It was an eye-opener to experience being beside someone I have always watched and idolised.”

 ?? ?? Benji Marshall after winning the 2005 title with the Wests Tigers.
Benji Marshall after winning the 2005 title with the Wests Tigers.
 ?? ?? Jarome Luai at the Penrith Panthers Captain's Run training session.
Jarome Luai at the Penrith Panthers Captain's Run training session.

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