NSW's Origin pairing nine years in making

·3-min read

In the 41-year history of State of Origin, only one NSW halves pairing have spent longer playing together than Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary.

And they were Andrew and Matthew Johns, who started in their pre-school years in their Cessnock backyard.

First partnered together in an under-15s Panthers Academy representative side, the opening Origin match on Wednesday will mark the next step in a nine-year journey when debutant Luai joins Cleary in the NSW halves.

It's already clear they bring out the best in each other.

Their record alongside each other as NRL halves for Penrith stands at 31 wins from 33 games.

If you include time together in under-20s, it balloons out to 46 wins from 48 games after putting a cricket score on Canberra in their first Holden Cup match together.

"I think it's just playing with each other for so long," Luai told AAP.

"He knows how I like the ball and when I need it. We don't even have to say much to each other.

"If one runs, we know the other one will be right there.

"Having that experience and games under our belt, it's helped us so much through the grades."

What that means in Origin remains to be seen with opposite number Cameron Munster the latest to warn Luai on Friday that life won't be so easy in that fierce arena.

But Blues officials are banking on it working.

The five Panthers they have picked are the most since coach Brad Fittler and advisor Greg Alexander were in the NSW team in 1989.

They also believe they've got the right men.

Winger Brian To'o has been a revelation in the past two years, regularly giving Cleary and Luai the right field position with his starts to sets.

Liam Martin has played beside both Luai and Cleary since arriving at Penrith in SG Ball, first as Luai's bodyguard on the left and then Cleary's hole-runner on the right last year.

Isaah Yeo will then be the most crucial pawn at lock, with Cleary describing him as "the real link man"

The Blues will ask him to straighten the attack, touching the ball more than most other locks in the NRL at Penrith.

"It can be pretty easy (to bring the Penrith structure into Origin) with the amount of players we have," Luai told AAP.

"Having Nat (Cleary) there controlling it all is big. He is in career-best form so I am just going to let him do what he does.

"There are so many good players around us so we just have to nail our roles and there will be plenty of good plays off the back of that."

Cleary knows better than most the difference between playing with a familiar halves partner in Origin and starting fresh with a new partner.

He debuted alongside then-Penrith partner James Maloney, and has since spent time alongside Cody Walker and Luke Keary.

But with Luai his combination is far greater, acting as the more dominant half playing both sides of the ruck while Luai is happy being the master of his left edge.

"You know (a clubmate's) game a bit better and it's a built combination," Cleary said.

"Especially with someone like me and Romy (Luai) who have played footy together for so long.

"We're kind of opposites on the field, but it does complement."

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