Panther Luai bolts into Samoa side
Penrith Panthers rookie Jarome Luai is the shock selection in Samoa's Rugby League World Cup line-up named on Friday and admits he thought the phone call from coach Matt Parish was a prank.
Born in Sydney, the 20-year-old played for the Junior Kiwis in May on the back of his mothers heritage, but is eligible for Toa Samoa through his father.
While he is yet to crack into Anthony Griffin's first grade side at the Panthers, Luai will enter the Samoa squad boasting former Australian Kangaroos forward Josh Papalii and ex-Kiwis back-rower Frank Pritchard as captain.
"It's all pretty new to me," Luai told NRL.com.
"Dad already knew before the coach called me and he didn't want to ruin the surprise. I thought it was a prank.
"I haven't had much to do with Samoa. I don't know any of the boys and I think you'll find Tyrone May was in the squad originally but due to his injury there was a spot for me.
"So it's pretty daunting but exciting at the same time. I am keen to get into camp next week and meet them all.
"To get the call was an amazing feeling. I'm lucky for the opportunity."
Luai said Parish has selected him to play in the halves, but the utility is capable of slotting into hooker or the fullback role if required.
Panthers general manager Phil Gould announced the selection at the club's presentation night on Wednesday and Kiwis assistant and Luai's Intrust Super Premiership coach Garth Brennan was one of the first to congratulate the St Mary's junior.
Toa Samoa will meet the New Zealand Kiwis on October 28th at Mt Smart Stadium.
"First thing Garth said was he will send a lot of traffic my way so I'm preparing already," Luai laughed.
"There are some big names in these line-ups and I'll have to be ready for the brutal contact.
"Hopefully it pushes my name a bit more on the big stage, but I'm just happy to gain the experience and take it all in."
Luai transitioned from the under-20s competition to the Intrust Super Premiership in 2017, and with the long-term knee injury to May, could use the tournament to springboard into the NRL next season.
"Training with the first grade boys this year… it's all helped," he said.
"I'm young and have had a good year in that I was able to train with the NRL boys and got a lot out of that.
"Playing in the Intrust Super Premiership is a big jump from 20s and I've physically been able to handle that.
"Coming through the grades with a lot of the boys in development systems has helped me in that regard too."