Origin News: ‘It’s exciting’ – Walsh ready to resume hostilities in Luai rematch, Gus raises questions over Blues bench


Bold and brash Queensland fullback Reece Walsh and NSW’s pantomime villain playmaker Jarome Luai are set to resume State of Origin hostilities, and the Maroons No.1 can’t wait.

“Luai, yeah … it’s exciting. It’s going to be good,” Walsh said ahead of Wednesday night’s series opener in Sydney.

“We’re two really competitive people. There are people you want to play with and against (like Luai) who give their all.”

NSW five-eighth Luai pegged Walsh as the man who pulled his hair in the Maroons’ 26-18 Origin I win in Adelaide last year. After the match the Penrith three-time premiership winner doubled down by saying Walsh “ran away” afterwards.

The feud festered in game two in Brisbane. Walsh and Luai were both sent off, and later fined, for striking following a fracas where the Panthers star headbutted the 21-year-old Brisbane Bronco.

Luai was dropped for game three in Sydney and Walsh was suspended, so this will be the first time the pair will meet again in the toughest arena.

Walsh has been mobbed with adulation by rival NRL club’s fans in Sydney but that won’t be the case on Wednesday night when he will be public enemy No.1 with ardent Blues fans. Luai will have the parochial crowd on his side.

Despite the rivalry, Walsh is not dirty on Luai. He recognises a kindred spirit who will do anything for his team to win.

“It’s just passion, pride in your state, pride for your teammates and the people you are doing it for,” Walsh said.

“You don’t want to let people down, that’s footy. You go out and play with passion and sometimes it boils over a bit, but at the end of the day it’s just footy.”

Walsh walked that talk when he sent Luai a text message of support last year after Queensland’s 32-6 win in Brisbane.

After the loss Luai took aim at some of his critics on social media but it was later revealed his actions were fuelled by death threats he had received.

“I sent him a message after the game to see how he is going and to wish him all the best with everything,” Walsh said last year before the NRL grand final.

Both men are young fathers and Walsh has a soft side that came to the fore.

“When you step off the field, it is a whole different thing,” he said.

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

“I think people forget sometimes that we are normal people with young families to go home to.”

Walsh had a stellar season for the Broncos in 2023 but his game still has plenty of upside.

“I learnt some good lessons at the back end of last year. I feel like I have matured a little bit more as a player,” he said.

“It’s just exciting to be back in camp this time and keep growing and keep trying to get better.”

Gus questions Blues’ bench gamble

Former NSW coach Phil Gould believes Michael Maguire is taking an almighty risk with his bench strategy for Origin I next Wednesday at Accor Stadium.

The Blues have selected four forwards in Isaah Yeo, Spencer Leniu, Hudson Young and Haumole Olakau’autu to face the Maroons from the interchange.

If there is an injury in their halves, the Blues don’t have an obvious replacement which is a concern with Nicho Hynes hampered by a calf injury which forced him to sit out training on Wednesday.

And if one of the Blues’ outside backs is forced off, Young looms as the likely option to fill in at centre.

“There are four forwards on the bench – that’s a risk,” Gould said on his Six Tackles with Gus podcast.

“If a half or five-eighth goes down, I do know that Cameron McInnes is gonna play that position. They’re doing that on the fact that he played in that position for the Sharks – I don’t know whether that’s adequate enough to risk that in an Origin game.

“There is a distinct gamble in the way NSW have gone about this. That’s not to say it won’t come off. If they’re gonna cover an outside back, they’re gonna have to cover it with Hudson Young or Angus Crichton.

“If it comes down to a foot race between them or Valentine Holmes or Hamiso [Tabuai-Fidow], you know who is going to win. There’s always a gamble, unless you have got that perfect [utility]. Craig Wing could play anywhere on the field and that gives you a great deal of comfort.”

with AAP

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