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Jarome Luai's heir apparent unveiled as Panthers target history in World Club Challenge

Ivan Cleary has confirmed rookie Jack Cole will be named at No.6 for Penrith's World Club Challenge clash.

Pictured Jack Cole left and Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai right
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has confirmed rookie Jack Cole will partner Nathan Cleary in the halves for Penrith's World Club Challenge clash against Wigan Warriors. Image: NRL.com/Getty

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has confirmed rookie Jack Cole will partner Nathan Cleary in the halves for Penrith's World Club Challenge clash against Wigan. It is the biggest indicator to date of Jarome Luai's long-term replacement after the crafty five-eighth signed a contract to join the Tigers in 2025.

Luai has been battling a shoulder injury that required surgery in October and remains on the sidelines, giving Cole - who has made just a singular NRL appearance - his chance to shine in front of a sold-out crowd at DW Stadium on Saturday night (Sunday AEDT). "Jack Cole is going to play, he’s a young player who has played one NRL game a couple of years ago late in the year," Cleary said on Wednesday.

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"He’s shown plenty of promise and has had a great pre-season. He gets his opportunity on just about the biggest stage. I’m looking forward to seeing how he goes, I’m sure he’ll do well."

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 05: NRL player Jarome Luai poses court side  during the round six NBL match between Sydney Kings and New Zealand Breakers at Qudos Bank Arena, on November 05, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Jarome Luai has been battling a shoulder injury that required surgery in October and will miss the Panthers World Club Challenge match against Wigan. Image: Getty (Mark Kolbe via Getty Images)

The young gun made his debut at the end of the 2022 season and his halves partner for the World Club Challenge game, Cleary, told the SMH that he is an exciting talent. "His willingness to learn (is impressive). He’s come in this pre-season and he’s been flying. I’m looking forward to the prospect he is,” Cleary said. "We don’t want to rush him too much. There’s a lot of good signs there.

"I know it’s a cliche, but he’s just a footy player. He knows the game. He’s fast and strong. He’s only going to get better." Cole appears to be next in line for the No.6 jersey, seemingly preferred over off-season recruits Brad Schneider and Daine Laurie.

Scott Sorensen and Liam Henry in doubt for World Club Challenge

Scott Sorensen and Liam Henry are both in doubt for the Panthers World Club challenge match, with the former battling a leg injury and the latter struggling with illness. Both players as of Thursday are anticipated to be right come game time as the Panthers seek to break their UK drought.

Penrith are desperate to claim the club's first-ever victory in the World Club Challenge, having lost the previous two years. They went down to St Helens 13-12 last year, which then flowed into the NRL season, with the Panthers losing two of their first three NRL games.

Nathan Cleary is adamant there will be no such slow start in 2024, stating the team is eager to start the new season off on a high. "It kind of was a bit of a hangover last year," Cleary told AAP. "Just seeing how much it meant to St Helens and losing that game did hurt. We want to try to correct that this year. Obviously, over there will be a greater challenge in front of their home fans."

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