The NSW Blues have lashed suggestions Jarome Luai will be unable to perform in the State of Origin arena without his usual partner-in-crime Nathan Cleary, declaring the Penrith star's combination with Mitch Moses is already firing.
Coach Brad Fittler has stacked his Blues side with a healthy Panthers contingent in recent years, hoping to capitalise on the combinations that have led Penrith to three consecutive grand final appearances.
So when Cleary went down with a hamstring injury on the Sunday after Origin I, speculation circled that clubmate Luai could lose the Blues' five-eighth spot for the must-win second game of the series on June 21.
While former South Sydney combination Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds was floated as a potential replacement pairing, Fittler backed Luai and Parramatta's Mitch Moses to quickly strike up a combination.
Moses and Luai have never played together before but the stats show the Penrith man is more than capable of winning without Cleary on deck.
In the 15 games Luai has started in the halves for the Panthers without his regular No.7, the side has lost only once.
That defeat came against perennial heavyweights Melbourne on the run to the 2021 finals series, when the Panthers were also missing Isaah Yeo, Brian To'o and James Fisher-Harris.
In addition, Luai inspired Samoa to their first appearance in a World Cup final last year, partnering Anthony Milford and Chanel Harris-Tavita as his side went all the way to the decider against Cleary and Australia.
"We've had a lot of success with Romey (Luai) at club land without Nathan," Yeo said.
"And then if you look at the World Cup, which is just about the biggest stage in rugby league, he managed to lead Samoa to a World Cup final.
"He was in charge of the team then.
"It's an easy media headline but if you actually look at the body of work, he's done a fantastic job."
Blues assistant coach and Panthers great Greg Alexander laughed off suggestions Luai would be unable to cope without Cleary.
"They play together and have played together for a lot of footy but it's not like they're twins," he said.
"Jarome can operate on his own."
With Fittler, Alexander and Andrew Johns on the coaching staff, the Blues have no shortage of halves experts to nurture the new-look pairing.
Alexander said the two were already thriving in camp.
"They haven't played footy together but that's not an issue. They've looked good in training and they'll be good on Wednesday," he said.
"Mitch has been good, very good. He's confident, he believes that he belongs. He's ready to go."
Moses comes into camp a more seasoned performer on the big stage than when he last replaced the injured Cleary, in the third game of the 2021 series.
Since that Origin appearance, Moses has guided Parramatta through last year's finals series and to their first grand final since 2009.
"He's played in some big games now," Yeo said.
"He's got clarity too, he knows everything about the team.
"We're really excited to play with him."