The Benji move that had Luai hooked

Penrith star Jarome Luai was just six when he fell in love with Benji Marshall while watching his first game of rugby league.

Luai was on a camping trip with his parents at Patonga on the NSW Central Coast when he watched Marshall steer the Wests Tigers to the 2005 NRL premiership with a freakish flick pass for Pat Richards to score a crucial first-half try.

Eighteen years on, Luai will partner his idol in the halves for the Maori All Stars against the Indigenous All Stars in Townsville on Saturday night.

“I clearly remember that ’05 grand final and where I was when Benji did that flick pass – it is a memory that I’ll have for the rest of my life,” Luai said.

“Our camping neighbours happened to have a little portable TV, so we watched the game on it.

“I remember my mum got me a Tigers towel afterwards and I used it after every shower for the next five years – I just didn’t want to let go of it.

“I’ve been a fan of Benji ever since.”

NRL legend Benji Marshall will partner Penrith young gun Jarome Luai in the halves for the Maori side. Picture: Matthew ElkertonSource:News Corp Australia

Luai is also rooming with Marshall in Maori All Stars camp, so he is making the most of every minute with the man who inspired him to become an NRL player.

From extras at training to feedback on his passing and kicking, the Panthers five-eighth is all ears when the veteran Kiwi is around.

“I was a bit starstruck of Benji at first, but I’m rooming with him, so I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from him,” he said.

“He is pretty old in age, but he acts pretty young, so it was pretty easy to connect with him straight away.

“I’m really enjoying my time around the Maori boys but especially Benji.

“He has had such a long career and he has been so successful. He has been my idol since day one, so I’m pretty happy to be getting this opportunity.”

After a stellar 2020 season, which included a grand final and NSW Origin squad selection, Luai is determined to become better this season.

He believes Marshall is the perfect role model to take his game to another level in 2021.

“Benji has given me a lot of confidence from what I did last year,” he said.

“He is telling me little things I can do to improve my game, so I’m really grateful for him trying to be some sort of teacher to me.

“I’m just soaking it all in and having fun with the boys.

“You can see what impact Benji has on the boys with how he trains, what he brings to the team and how much of a leader he is.

“He has got a really big voice within the side and he has earnt that respect over the years, so I’m really happy to learn from him.”

Benji Marshall after winning the 2005 NRL grand final with the Wests Tigers. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Luai is also relishing the chance to honour his mother Raumako’s Samoan heritage during Saturday’s clash against the Indigenous All Stars.

“I haven’t had much to do with my Maori side growing up, but my family means a lot to me and I’m grateful to represent my mum and her culture and her upbringing.

“This gives me the opportunity to learn a bit more about where I come from and I’m really blessed to be here.”

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