Penrith coach Ivan Cleary says it is “ridiculous” two of the Panthers’ State of Origin players have been criticised for their supposed lack of commitment to NSW since pledging international allegiance to Samoa.
Jarome Luai and Brian To’o played all three Origin games this year and while the interstate series has traditionally been a selection tool for the Australian team, the pair have declared they would prefer to represent Samoa at this year’s World Cup.
As Samoa is not a tier-one nation, To’o and Luai are within their rights to continue playing Origin even if they do not wish to be selected for Australia.
But following the pair’s selection call, rugby league pundits have questioned whether the Origin jersey means as much to New South Welshmen as to Queenslanders.
Cleary said the sentiment was “ridiculous”.
“I was at the (third Origin) game, sitting there watching it and everyone who took the field that night should be commended for what they did,” he told reporters.
“I’ve been to a lot of Origin games, and that’s as intense as what I’ve seen.
“From the Blues’ point of view, those guys defended in the second half phenomenally. I don’t see how anyone could not be proud of anyone in that game.”
As a member of the extended squad for the Blues’ loss in the third game of the series, Cronulla forward Dale Finucane said he witnessed Luai and To’o’s passion for Origin.
“I heard comments after the game about certain individuals who may not have valued the jersey,” he said, “but I can tell you, sitting in the sheds, how disappointed and depleted the guys were after the game.
“They’re not comments that I value, so they’re not something I’m giving much thought to.”
A five-time Blues representative, Finucane said joining camp for the decider had reiterated his own passion for the jersey.
“I just love being involved in the group and offering anything that I can throughout the week,” he said.
“It’s certainly something I want to get back into doing.”