In an eventful showdown at BlueBet Stadium, Penrith Panther’s Jarome Luai is anticipated to face potential punishment for a shoulder charge on Melbourne’s Nelson Asofa-Solomona. Penrith, currently leading the NRL, comprehensively beat an injured Melbourne Storm squad with a 26-6 victory. However, the triumph was marred by Luai’s contentious high shot on Asofa-Solomona, which garnered scrutiny from referee Adam Gee.
The incident replay disclosed Luai jumping and colliding with a falling Asofa-Solomona using his right shoulder. Having already been twice penalised in the past, if Luai finds himself on the receiving end of another penalty, he could be looking at a minimum three-match suspension.
If deemed necessary, his spot could be filled by Jack Cogger, an automatic replacement. However, Luai’s energetic rapport with Nathan Cleary cannot be easily replaced. He significantly contributes to the energy and chemistry of the team, a playing dynamic that Cleary has sorely missed during recent months due to his own game absences.
Penrith coach, Ivan Cleary addressed the dubious incident saying, “I’ve only seen the one angle. I’m not too sure. It’s like a little fly against a big giant. I don’t know. We’ll wait and see.”
During the second half, Gee instructed Luai to cool his jets following a few scuffles with Storm centre Marion Seve. Fans overheard Luai informing Gee that he had been trod on the head, to which Gee replied admonishingly, “don’t run the risk of [doing] anything else”. Hopeful fans are holding their breath for Luai to be exonerated and allowed to continue his blazing progress into September.
A question lights up after watching the Panthers – how good is this team when they are in their element? Can many other teams transit the ball as swiftly while on the offensive?
Despite these questions, Melbourne put a brave front, maintaining a 20-6 trailing score at halftime as they were consistently backed into their try line through the first half. Coach Craig Bellamy expressed disappointment over some “dumb things” his side did in the first half. “We didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we blew our feet off in the first half,” Bellamy mourned.
Former Panther George Jennings impressed with a score for the visitors, only to be off the field a minute later due to a renewed knee injury. In contrast, Brian To’o opened the scoring for Penrith via a try, followed by two more tries from Luai and Stephen Crichton.
Rounding off the year with matches against Manly, the Titans, Parramatta and the Cowboys – the Panthers are well-favoured to clinch the title. The home-ground advantage, particularly, is a significant factor in their favour.
Storm, on the other hand, are licking their wounds with Jahrome Hughes (ankle) and Xavier Coates (hip) sitting out the game with injuries. They hope to redeem themselves next Sunday against Canberra. With their star No.1 Ryan Papenhuyzen gearing up for his return in the Queensland Cup after a long year out with a fractured kneecap, the team is carefully planning his eventual NRL return, as confirmed by club legend Billy Slater.
In a parallel incident, Moeacki Fotuaika from Gold Coast was sent off in the Warriors’ win for a head shot, making him the second NRL player to be sent off in less than 24 hours. Despite a grim faced match that saw Fotuaika getting dismissed and Warriors fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad unable to continue, Titans coach Jim Lenihan insisted, “I thought the send-off was harsh for us.”