Jarome Luai fined for making contact with touch judge
Star Penrith five-eighth Jarome Luai is free to play State of Origin after escaping with a fine for his push on touch judge Chris Sutton in his side's 15-4 win over Brisbane.
Luai explained the incident was "an honest mistake" and while he was charged on Friday with contrary conduct, he was fined $1800 leaving him available for selection for NSW.
Winger Sunia Turuva had just scored in the corner and Luai, who often celebrates his teammates' tries in an exuberant fashion, said he was about to congratulate the flying Fijian when he pushed Sutton in the back.
Players are not allowed to touch match officials and over the years some have been charged by the match review committee (MRC) for doing so while others have not, depending on the circumstances.
After a nervous wait Luai avoided a ban, allowing him to be available for selection on Monday for NSW in the opening State of Origin clash in Adelaide.
Vision of the incident on Thursday night at Suncorp Stadium showed Luai reaching out to apologise to Sutton.
"I was just trying to celebrate a try with a bro' and I didn't realise it was the touchie until I did it," Luai told AAP after Thursday's match.
"I spoke to him straight away and said, 'I didn't know it was you'. I wasn't really looking. My headlights weren't on. I apologised … and we are sweet.
"I just wanted to make sure he was alright, and then I explained what happened.
"I was just trying to get to (Turuva). I know he scored the try and I was going to try and jump on his back.
"It was my mistake and I obviously apologised after."
Luai's explanation lined up with what captain Nathan Cleary said in the post-match press conference.
"Romy (Luai) mentioned it to me straight after the game and he said he didn't realise it was the touchie … and then apologised straight after," Cleary said.
Luai had another strong match to back up his stellar display in last week's 48-4 victory over Sydney Roosters to all but seal his NSW selection.
"It is that time of the year and it is always a privilege to be in the chat about selection," he said.
"If I do get picked, I will take it with both hands and give it my best shot."
The combination Luai has with Penrith half Cleary and lock Isaah Yeo is set to be a strength for NSW with all set to be chosen for Origin.
"I've played a lot of footy with those boys and I enjoy doing so. They are probably the best players I will ever get to play with," he said.
The Panthers went top of the table on 16 points with the win, although South Sydney will pass them if they beat Parramatta on Friday night.
With three victories in a row, the defending premiers are now starting to find their groove, with Luai combining nicely with the left edge.
"Our combinations are growing," he said.
"I have (centre Tyrone) Peachey out there now. Our edge has changed a bit over the course of the year with different back-rowers and different centres but I have bonded with this edge and we are able to feed off each other really well."