Ben Blaschke,, NRL.com
Australian interchange forward Luke Lewis admits he was stunned to receive a call-up to the Kangaroos squad for Friday night’s Anzac Test against the Kiwis following a horror 12 months in which very little has gone to plan.
Having missed last year’s end-of-season Test following the cancer scare that also ruined his farewell to childhood club Penrith after 12 years and 208 games, Lewis has been one of the innocent bystanders caught up in the Cronulla drugs scandal in recent months after arriving in the Shire in the off-season.
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Expected to be one of the more dominant clubs of 2013, the subsequent ASADA investigation and the disruptions it has caused has contributed to the Sharks’ 2-4 start to the year with Lewis telling NRL.com that earning a recall to the Kangaroos squad this week had been the furthest thing from his mind.
“Not at all,” Lewis said when asked if he had anticipated selection. “To tell you the truth I hadn’t even thought about it.
“So much has happened over the past year… I’ve just been trying to do the little things for myself and trying to get myself back on track to where I was a couple of years ago.
“I’m getting there slowly but I feel like I need to get a bit more ball in my hands for Cronulla and start to put my best foot forward.
“When you’ve only won two from six games it’s not where we want to be at the moment and when you’re not winning games it can be hard to get into sides like this, so I feel very honoured and very lucky to be there.
“It’s overwhelming really. But I won’t let anybody down, I tell you.”
After the tumultuous nature of the opening weeks of the NRL season, which came right on the back of ASADA and the Australian Government jointly announcing their probe into drugs in Australian sport on February 7, the intense media scrutiny surrounding affected clubs has calmed somewhat in recent weeks.
But Lewis backed claims made by Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan two weeks ago that the club’s training remained hampered.
“We’re all a really tight bunch of blokes but it is hard sometimes to get on with it,” he said.
“Everyone is doing the best they can at the moment. We’re training hard and that’s all we can do. If we keep doing that we’ll come out the other side of it.
“All that other stuff, we’re trying to put behind us. We’ve got to just let ASADA and all those things going on in the background handle themselves. The boys have been trying to put that behind them and trying to train as best as they can. We’re probably not able to do that but we’re trying to train the best we can. Once it’s all sorted I’m sure we’ll come through the other side where we’re expected to be.”
Lewis said he welcomed the chance to escape the glare and spend a week in Kangaroos camp without the drugs spectre hanging over the side.
“It’s a nice change” he said. “It’s good to come into camp and see all the boys again. The smiling faces and people having fun – these sorts of camps with the players here, you learn so much. Little things that you forget about, when you come here you take that back to your club and pass it on to the other guys in the team.
“Everyone catches onto it and wants to be a part of it. I’m just stoked to be here with Gal. I’ll take a lot from this week, then head back to Cronulla on Monday and take a lot of confidence into the big game against the Bulldogs at Bluetongue Stadium.”
The Australians take a full-strength side into Friday night’s clash and will be heavy favourites to win a 15th consecutive Anzac Test against a New Zealand outfit missing key players Benji Marshall, Sonny Bill Williams and Jeremy Smith.
And while Lewis predicted the Kiwis would be tougher to beat than expected, he agreed that the presence of Queensland quartet Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston provided the Aussies with a huge advantage.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have those players here,” he said. “They just lead the ship and everyone follows that lead. Obviously everyone has to do their job around them in order for them to do it but it’s just a really, really good leadership base with those guys.
“I just jump on board with whatever they say and listen as much as I can. That’s the good thing about this group, they’ve played a lot of footy together and it comes easy to them. They’ve got that partnership.
“But New Zealand will run hard and they’ve got guys like Jared Waerea-Hargreaves who is going great at the moment. Their forward pack is very good. It’s going to be a bash-fest, I think.”