It’s lucky 13 for Luke

Been there, done that, got the T-shirt . . . now vet­eran Lewis craves a sec­ond ring BY GREG PRICHARD

Rugby League Week - - Pre Game -

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.

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