Queensland hero Cooper Cronk has revealed he would pick Jarome Luai ahead of Nicho Hynes for NSW in the opening game of the State of Origin series. Luai is the incumbent five-eighth for the Blues and has helped Penrith win back-to-back premierships alongside NSW halfback Nathan Cleary.
However Hynes is the reigning Dally M medallist and has continued his incredible form into the 2023 season. Although Hynes plays halfback for Cronulla, many have called for him to be picked at No.6 for the Blues in what would be a formidable halves combination with Cleary.
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Working in Luai's favour is he already has that combination with Cleary from club level, which has seen the Panthers win consecutive premierships in 2021 and 2022. But the Blues lost the Origin series in 2022, and many have been calling for a change.
But according to Cronk, NSW coach Brad Fittler should stick strong with Luai - at least for the first game. “Im sticking with Luai. I’m just thinking that combination of Cleary, (lock Isaah) Yeo, Luai, it’s stood up for a long time,” Cronk said on NRL 360 on Monday night.
“But Nicho Hynes could handle it if he’s picked, he’s a great player. I’d have no doubt that he would (handle) it. I think Jarome’s probably got one game, I think that’s the way it sits.
“... he (Luai) is aware of the pressure. He’s aware of anything happening and if he falls over at the first game Nicho would come in, but I’d be sticking with Jarome and see how he goes.”
Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon has resisted the urge to call on NSW selectors to pick Hynes, but gave the star halfback his backing. He said: “I don’t get to choose the team there and there’s a number of really strong candidates there.
“But I know Nicho would handle it and he’s fearless in the way he plays. As you guys know courage can manifest itself in so many ways but he shows a lot of courage to play the way he does.”
Jarome Luai or Nicho Hynes for State of Origin?
Speaking last month, NSW legend Andrew Johns said he'd also have Luai instead of Hynes. "Origin is about combinations," Johns said. "In this team you've got the holy trilogy of Luai, Cleary and Isaah Yeo playing around the ruck, playing together. Combinations are so important.
"Nicho will be in contention at 14 (on the bench), but without doubt you need combinations and the combinations around the middle of the field with Yeo, Cleary and Luai have been doing it for the last three, four, five years - especially the last three years in big, big games and winning big games."
Matty Johns had earlier expressed similar sentiments. “If I was to pick the side this morning, I would pick Nicho at 14 and I would leave Luai at six," he said on SEN radio. "The combination he has with not just Cleary but Isaah Yeo, that three combination that sits right in the middle of the field is just such an advantage for NSW.
“Successful Origin sides, there has been an important combination that sits right at the front of the side. At one point you had Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley and Bradley Clyde. At other points, you’ve had Andrew Johns, Danny Buderus and Ben Kennedy there. Combinations are very important to a representative side and that Penrith one is a beauty in the middle of the field for NSW.”
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