Brisbane fullback Reece Walsh has dismissed any suggestion of ongoing animosity between himself and Penrith villain Jarome Luai ahead of Saturday’s NRL grand final showdown, revealing he sent his rival a text of support after they clashed during State of Origin.
In game two of this year’s series both Walsh and Luai were sent off, and later fined, for striking following an incident in which the Panthers star, playing for NSW, headbutted the Maroons fullback.
It came after Luai accused Walsh of pulling his hair in the Maroons’ 26-18 Origin opening win in Adelaide. After the clash, Luai said Walsh “ran away”
Despite the expected angst between the duelling stars, Walsh on Monday said he reached out to Luai, who was the victim of death threats after game two, revealing his support for his rival before they clash again on Sunday.
“I sent him a message after game two (of the Origin series) to see how he is going and to wish him all the best with everything,” Walsh said after being mobbed by fans at Brisbane’s opening training session.
“When you go out on the field you … do anything for the team. When you step off, it is a whole different thing.
“I think people forget sometimes that we are normal people with young families to go home to.
“When I leave here and go back to my daughter (Leila) she doesn’t know what game I have lost. She doesn’t care about that. She just cares if she is getting chicken nuggets.”
Walsh said his respect increased for Luai after he made an unexpected return from a shoulder injury in Penrith’s preliminary final smashing of the Storm, amid criticism the Panthers playmaker and his teammates are arrogant.
“He is a young dad and he is playing with injury at the moment. That is pretty courageous,” he said.
“(Luai) plays with his heart on his sleeve. They are the people you want to go out to war with. You know they are going to give you their all.
“I wear my heart on my sleeve too.
“Does he get under my skin? No, he doesn’t. He is fun to go up against in those battles.”
“I think he draws attention to the game. He has got the right to do it. He has won the last two comps and puts bums on seats.”
Walsh admitted it had been a “crazy” first year in Brisbane, making his Origin debut and now playing his way into a grand final that has Brisbane buzzing.
“It’s pretty crazy, I‘ve been in Origin camps but I’ve never seen anything like this,” Walsh said.
“That‘s a credit to the city we’re in, the people we are representing and it shows it’s more than just a game of rugby league.
“It’s going to be exciting. I’m a bit disappointed it’s the last game, I wish I could keep playing on, but we have one more job to do.
“I am keen and excited to get out there and step on the big stage. These are the games you want to be a part of and for us to be here doing it now, it’s exciting, I’m excited.”