Thursday 22 Oct 2020. The Penrith Panthers have finished the NRL season on top of the ladder and are about to play their first ever Grand Final since 2003 this Sunday against the Melbourne Storm.
The Panthers are currently on a 17 straight game winning streak and have not lost in 131 days. Unsurprisingly, Ivan Cleary was named NRL Coach of the Year at the recent Dally M Awards.
A lot of the team’s success can be put down to the Samoan contingent of players in the Panthers side.
Samoan Internationals Jarome Lua’i, Brian To’o, Moses Leota and Tyrone May along with 20 year old youngsters Spencer Leniu and Stephen Crichton have all played critical roles in the success of the Panthers season.
Jarome Luai finished 7th on the Dally M points leaderboard awarded to the best player in the NRL. His combination with NSW Blues halfback Nathan Cleary, also son of head coach Ivan, has seen Luai’s game lift to a whole new level. In his 22 appearances this year, Luai has 22 try assists along with 7 of his own tries.
Lua’i made his International debut for Samoa at the age of 20 in 2017. The 23 year old is considered a dark horse, sure to make a State of Origin debut in the near future, however, Luai has shut down those speculations, stating his loyalty to Samoa.
“I’d still be eligible for the Blues, but my heart is with Samoa.”
“I know how good Samoa can be, there’s a lot of good young talent coming through, and the brothers I’ve grown up playing with want to play for Samoa as well – Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Spencer Leniu, Moses Leota, Tyrone May – we’re all eligible.”
“We’ve seen what has happened with Tonga, and hopefully that’s something we can get going one day because I know how much of a threat Samoa can be to the other nations. If we all buy in, we will get a lot of rewards out of it.”
Brian To’o is 30 games into his NRL career and already has 16 tries to his name. The hard running Samoan winger has averaged a staggering 178 running meters per game this season. To’o made his international debut for Samoa last year against Fiji Bati.
At 25, Moses Leota is the oldest of the 6 Samoans playing for Penrith. The 108kg, 6 foot prop plays a critical role off the bench for the Panthers, injecting energy into the game when his team needs it most.
His impact off the bench has been noticed by NSW head coach Brad Fittler and may be in line to be included in the NSW 27-man squad.
Sources close to the Blues camp told the Sydney Morning Herald that NSW coach Brad Fittler is impressed with Leota’s impact off the bench, and is in line for a shock call-up.
Youngster Stephen Crichton is also expected to be named in Fittler’s 27-man NSW squad.
Crichton, in his first full season of NRL has scored 16 tries and has been named in the NRL’s Team of the Year securing his position as the best Center in the NRL.
Tyrone May is a jack of all trades off the bench for Penrith. May plays five-eight, second row as well as center; and has played in all three roles for Penrith this year.
The Head Coach called on May’s number last week in the semi-finals and May did more than answer the call. The utility player was promoted from the bench to the starting side hours before kickoff and managed to score a try to put his side into the lead.
Spencer Leniu is named in the reserves for this Sunday’s Grand Final and will only play if injuries permit. In Leniu’s limited 15 games this season he has managed to make 97.4% of his tackles along with 80 running meters per game off the bench.
Lua’i, To’o, Leota, Crichton and May are all expected to play in this weekend’s Grand Final. Kickoff is Sunday 10.30 pm Samoan Time.