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Rhythm and Blues: How Panthers' vibe helped NSW hit high notes

Liam Martin says fellow Blues debutants Jarome Luai and Brian To’o only turned off the boombox when the team’s plane landed at Sydney Airport on Thursday afternoon.

The rookie trio, along with their club co-captains Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo, introduced the Panthers' infectious on- and off-field style to the Blues for Origin I and the result was a Penrith-type performance as NSW romped to a record 50-6 triumph in Wednesday night’s series opener.

Now just one win away from a third series triumph in four years under Brad Fittler, the Blues have developed a culture of inclusiveness that saw players from previous campaigns who were overlooked due to injury or form message their support via the team’s Whatsapp group.

With a club record five players in the game-day 17, Penrith are having a huge influence on the side and Fittler was confident Luai and To’o would deliver from the moment they strolled into the stadium carrying the blaring boom box.

According to Martin, the music didn’t stop all night after the eight-try romp at Townsville’s Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

“I don’t think they turned it off at all. Probably when we landed was the only time,” Martin said.

The secret behind Luai's calm Origin debut

“I knew that Brian and Romey would step up. It was so good to see them play out of their skins. They were confident and they prepared as if they would for any other game.

“They had the speaker going all week, so it was good. They are just such happy people and they just bring that energy all the time.”

To’o, who described his Blues debut as “life changing”, said he had been nervous before kick-off but it didn’t show as he scored two tries and ran more than 200 metres.

Luai appeared so comfortable in the Origin arena he addressed referee Gerard Sutton as “bro” in a comical exchange which sent television viewers into hysterics and social media into overdrive.

Standing at the baggage carousel with the controls for the boombox strapped around his waist, Luai felt compelled to apologise for the exchange that endeared him to most NSW fans.

“It just felt like I was arguing in Mt Druitt or something. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful or anything so I will try not to do that again,” Luai said. “I will definitely try to be more formal next time.”

Cleary, who grew up playing alongside Luai, said the 24-year-old’s positivity lifted his teammates.

“He was less nervous than I was,” said Cleary, who has been the NSW halfback in all 10 Origin matches overseen by Fittler since 2018.

Maroons v Blues

“It just sums him up, the way he plays - his confidence is infectious on the rest of the group. I love playing alongside him, he actually makes me calmer and more confident in my job. I think Origin really suits his game too - his X-factor.”

To’o received stitches for a cut above his eye and suffered a corked knee but nothing could douse his excitement as he waited for his baggage with his proud parents.

“I woke up this morning and I was still in disbelief,” To’o said  “To have my family there and make my debut alongside some of the Panthers boys was really special, especially with Romes, who is someone I have looked up to growing up.

“To make my debut for the Blues alongside him just makes it 10 times more special. It’s life changing, I guess.”

A superb pass in traffic from Sims hands To'o his second

With centres Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell scoring five tries between them and To’o crossing twice, Fittler got to experience one of those rare Origins when the coach could enjoy the game because the result was decided early.

However, Fittler learned not to relax too soon after the 2019 series decider in which Queensland fought back from 20-8 down nine minutes before full-time to level the scores at 20-20 before a last-gasp James Tedesco try secured victory for NSW.

It was only after Trbojevic’s second try in the 58th minute that Fittler and the Blues coaching staff dared to start congratulating each other.

Fittler on Thursday praised the influence of the Panthers connection, particularly Cleary and Yeo, whose trysaving tackle on Dane Gagai in the dying moments of the match demonstrated the ruthlessness of the NSW side.

“We had a lot of Penrith players. The real key was without a doubt having Nathan and Isaah,” Fittler said.

“Isaah Yeo did an incredible job for us just organising everything around the middle and everything just comes off the back of their talk and them getting the team into position.

“There were a lot of people that went unnoticed last night. A lot of people talk about the back five, who were absolutely exceptional, but there were a lot of really good players in amongst that who did a lot right for them to shine.”


Origin II in Brisbane is sold out but tickets are still on sale for game three at Stadium Australia in Sydney on July 14 - get your tickets at

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