It’s lucky 13 for Luke
Been there, done that, got the T-shirt . . . now veteran Lewis craves a second ring BY GREG PRICHARD
NOT LONG AFTER HIS 20th birthday, Luke Lewis was a premiership winner – as a Panther, and as a winger, no less.
Roll forward 13 years and the warhorse Lewis is now a Shark and a back-rower . . . and a man determined not to waste his shot at a second ring.
Back in ’03, when the Panthers downed the Roosters 18-6, Lewis was 50 games into his NRL career and scoring tries by the truckload.
Now 33 and playing in the pack, he is closing in 300 games and has had a distinguished rep career that includes 17 Origins and 15 Tests.
Lewis has fought off major injuries, including two shoulder reconstructions, beaten thyroid cancer, had a dramatic change of clubs from the Panthers to the Sharks, and has a six-month-old daughter, Hazel.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Lewis tells RLW. “It would be awesome to win it again. It’s awesome just to be here and I’m making sure I enjoy the week.
“I’ll never forget 2003, it was the greatest time of my footy career, but I never really took it all in because I was only 20 and like you do when you’re young I thought it would happen every year. So this week I’m enjoying it from day one through to grand final day.
“I’m soaking it all up because I know how hard it is to get there and hopefully I’ll come out of it with some great memories.”
Lewis says he has turned full circle from learning off experienced players in 2003 to giving young team-mates the benefit of his experience in 2016.
“I was just a young kid going on the ride back then, with all the experience and talent we had in the side,” he says.
“Now I’m an older head and I understand what it takes to win and I’m using that experience to give back to the young guys in our team, like Val Holmes and Jack Bird.”
Apart from Lewis, skipper Paul Gallen and grand final expert James Maloney, the young Sharks also have 34-year-old Chris Heighington to keep them grounded in grand final week.
A winner in 2005 with Wests Tigers, the veteran forward continues to deliver quality minutes for coach Shane Flanagan in his 14th season in the top grade.
“I just love it. I love playing, I love hanging around the boys. I still love it as much as I did when I debuted. I found what I wanted to do in life and I’m just on the roller-coaster and loving it, to be honest,” Heighington says.
“I grew up in Umina, a little town, and I didn’t think I’d ever play one NRL game, but Tim Sheens gave me the opportunity at Wests Tigers and now I’m getting close to 300 games, so it’s definitely a dream come true.”
Heighington came off the bench in the ’05 grand final as a 23-year-old and now he’s back 11 years later for another shot at glory.
“It’s just an amazing feeling to be back in the big one,” he says. “That’s why you play the game, why you train so hard with all these boys, and we deserve to be there.”
Footnote: Lote Tuqiri holds the record for the longest gap between premierships. He won with Brisbane in 2000 as a 20-yearold and then with Souths in 2014 at the ripe old age of 35.
OLDER & WISER Luke Lewis with daughter Hazel after the Sharks’ preliminary final win and [below right] celebrating the Panthers’ 2003 triumph with Luke Rooney.