On top of losing Jarome Luai to a significant shoulder injury and seeing their hopes of winning the minor premiership severely dented, the Penrith Panthers have also been rocked by the concerning actions of hooker Soni Luke. It was a disastrous night for the Panthers on Thursday as they went down 32-18 to the Eels, handing the Broncos a golden opportunity to snatch the minor premiership.
Five-eighth Luai also dislocated his shoulder, and although he has managed to avoid surgery he won't be available until deep into the finals. But things went from bad to worse on Friday when the NRL hit Luke with a 'concerning act notice'.
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In scenes reminiscent of the infamous John Hopoate scandal, Luke was spotted seemingly putting his finger near the backside of Parramatta forward J'maine Hopgood. Luke combined with James Fisher-Harris to bring Hopgood down near the end of the first half, before producing what appeared to be his best Hopoate impersonation.
Soni Luke has been handed a Concerning Act Notice by the NRL for this incident last night
He will not face a fine or suspension unless he is found guilty of a similar act in the future. https://t.co/AyRQmVbhVV
— The League Scene (@LeagueScenePod) August 25, 2023
Hopgood, who previously played with Luke in reserve grade at Penrith, kicked his legs out in surprise after the incident. Luke's actions didn't go unnoticed by officials, who have since reprimanded the hooker but didn't fine or suspend him. “The match review committee has today issued the Panthers with a concerning act notice following the actions of Soni Luke,” an NRL spokesman told The Daily Telegraph.
Hopoate disgraced himself in 2001 when he put his finger up three players' backsides during a game for the Wests Tigers against North Queensland. Hopoate was hit with a 12-game suspension for the "disgusting, violent, offensive behaviour." NRL fans were left questioning why Luke wasn't also suspended, or fined at the very least.
— Mo Ali (@Makbulldog) August 26, 2023
Not a good look or act, he will learn by public embarrassment, maybe this is why his Coach has been reluctant to start him, I would of thought he would have had the jump once Kenny was out injured, but he went with Cogger instead & that didn’t really work. Hopefully he now stops.
— Domenic Pezzano (@DomPezzano) August 25, 2023
He’s done it twice now. How many times does he have to do it before it’s a suspension @NRL?
I mean technically it’s sexual assault
— Amanda (@AmandaR327) August 25, 2023
Wtf that’s weird and disgusting get some help!
— Cameron 🇦🇺 (@CammyssMCFC) August 26, 2023
Penrith Panthers rocked by drama ahead of NRL finals
The Panthers will be without Luai for the start of the finals after scans revealed 'significant' damage on Friday. The five-eighth had his arm twisted awkwardly while trying to score a try in the opening minutes of Thursday night's loss.
"The representative playmaker has avoided immediate surgery however there is significant damage to the shoulder," the club said in a statement on Friday. "Luai will immediately begin rehabilitation on the injured shoulder in a bid to return during the NRL finals series."
The Panthers are reportedly hoping that Luai will be available for the preliminary final (if they make it that far) - the third week of the finals. Coach Ivan Cleary will be kicking himself that he didn't rest Luai along with fullback Dylan Edwards and a number of others.
The Broncos can claim the minor premiership with wins in their final two games against Canberra and Melbourne, while Cleary might opt to rest even more players in their regular season finale against the Cowboys. "That's out of our control," Cowboys coach Todd Payten said after his side's 34-10 win over the Dolphins on Friday night - which kept their faint finals hopes alive.
"No-one remembers a minor premiership, they remember premierships. He (Cleary) rested players the last two seasons and it's worked for him.
"But the flip side of that is you go into the finals with a good performance under your belt and can really keep you confident. What we need to do is recover well. We need a good strong week at training and we need to improve."
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