New South Wales Blues rookie Jarome Luai has found himself at the centre of a State of Origin eligibility storm before the opening game of the series in Townsville.
The Penrith No.6 has dominated the NRL alongside Nathan Cleary, earning him a maiden call-up to continue their partnership for the Blues in Game I.
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However, the five-eighth's right to play for NSW has been thrown into question by Kangaroos coach and Maroons legend Mal Meninga, who says only players that commit to represent Australia should be eligible for state selection.
Luai - despite growing up and playing in NSW - told The Sunday Telegraph this week that he would love to honour his family heritage by representing Samoa at Test level.
“At international level you should play for your heritage,” he said.
“I was brought up in the Samoan church and I owe it to my family. I want to do them proud.
“Money’s all good but I think at international level it shouldn’t be about money.”
Meninga - who played 32 games for Queensland and coached the Maroons to a staggering nine series wins - argues that only players willing to represent the Kangaroos should be considered for Origin.
“My preference is that if you make yourself available for NSW and Queensland that first and foremost you are available for the Kangaroos,” Meninga told The Daily Telegraph.
“You might describe that as selfish but I want to keep the fabric of Origin clean.
“I’m a huge fan of the international game and I don’t begrudge players wanting to play for their ancestors and their country.”
Blues coach Brad Fittler has previously advocated for league officials to relax the eligibility rules for the plethora of Polynesian stars in the NRL.
“If they are born here, grew up here and were nurtured here then why can’t they play for NSW or Queensland?” Fittler said on 2GB in April.
“Then they go and play for their country. They might have allegiances to a parent or grandparent from the Pacific Islands.
“Times have changed. We need to start looking at our rules. International football can only improve if you allow this to happen.
Fittler is also backing Luai and Cleary to take their proven combination and understanding at club level onto the representative stage.
"It's one thing Nathan and Jarome do very well, when the pressure is on they seem to get better," Fittler said.
"State of Origin is all about that.
"When it's challenging and tough that's when you stand up and show your courage. When it's easy, both teams are good enough to do that."
Pressure on Blues halves to deliver
Maroons great Cameron Smith says history has shown that Cleary's game can be blunted if he finds himself under pressure and short of time on the pitch.
Queensland coach Paul Green also suggested that Luai's Origin debut in front of a hostile Townsville crowd could be a baptism of fire for the playmaker.
"The answer is yes (he may get found out), but I'm not talking about Jarome there specifically," he said.
"Different people have made debuts where they've killed it, some guys have found that they just haven't got themselves into the game.
How Penrith's halves are able to adapt the Panthers' game to the State of Origin arena shapes as the biggest question to determine the fate of the opener.
The pair have won an incredible 46 of 48 games in the halves together since entering under-20s in 2015, including 11 straight to start the year at Penrith.
However the one thing they are yet to do together is a lift a trophy, with last year's grand final defeat to Melbourne the most notable loss.
Cleary is at least one of the most capped players in NSW's team, with his eight Origins making him the fifth most experienced player in the team at the age of 23.
But 24-year-old Luai is a rookie on the big stage, acting as part of NSW's squad last year without playing a game.
In comparison, rival halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster have 23 Origins between them and both are premiership winners.
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