Matt Elliott on the Panthers' line-upFor a man touted as the solution to New South Wales’ utility blues, Luke Lewis is more than happy to settle in at lock.
The veteran Panther – who first made his name on the wing and later as a high-quality centre – made such an impression while filling in at halfback last season that he has jumped to the head of the list for a NSW bench spot after filling 18th-man duties for the Kangaroos last Friday night.
But ask Lewis and he will tell you he is very much at home at the back of the scrum these days.
“I do enjoy lock and I would like to make that my position,” the 25-year-old told NRL.com.
“If Matt (Elliott) keeps picking me there and I get the all-clear to keep playing there I’m going to put my hand up because I really enjoy being in the middle.
“You’re either in the game with the ball or you’re in the game in defence – you don’t have to wait for anything because the game is always coming at you.
“It gets you involved and the game goes quicker as a result of it. So hopefully I can stay there.”
It presents somewhat of a conundrum for Lewis, who is keen to shed the utility tag and nail down the one position but will almost certainly need to do otherwise if he is to earn a recall to the Blues’ line-up this season for the first time since 2004.
And having shot to the forefront of State of Origin selection after narrowly missing out on a Test debut last week, he now has Craig Wing to worry about too following the Rabbitohs’ veteran’s starring performance for City in Lewis’ absence.
“It was a hard situation because I’ve always wanted to play for Australia but I love playing for City too,” Lewis said.
“I don’t have any regrets at all though – Craig Wing is a good player and whatever comes of it, comes of it.
“I’m not too worried.
“If he gets picked and I don’t, I have no doubt he’ll do a great job.”
Asked if Origin was now on his mind, Lewis said: “I’m trying not to think about it – if I think about it too much it will make me nervous so I’ve been trying not to think about it at all.
“It would be nice to be involved – my main priority has to be playing good football for Penrith and helping the younger guys here.”
That Lewis is back in NSW calculations is, of course, largely due to Penrith’s own remarkable resurrection this season.
Having finished in a disappointing 12th in 2008, the Panthers were staring down the barrel of another year of discontent after dropping their opening two games this season but have turned it all around in dramatic fashion to find themselves in the top eight and on the way up.
“That’s credit to Matt and the coaching staff who didn’t let the situation get to us,” Lewis said.
“Everyone here is close and pretty open with one another and that has helped us climb out of the hole.
“To be honest we try not to even look at the table and where we stand – that way we can just go out and play footy.
“We’re still a bit hot-and-cold but we’re starting to play for each other and not worry about anything that is happening outside of that.”
The Panthers are now eyeing off a move into the NRL top four – a feat they could accomplish as early as this week should they overcome a Cronulla side languishing at the foot of the NRL ladder.
“But we can’t afford to take them lightly,” Lewis said.
“We’ve watched Cronulla play and they’ve been pretty unlucky in a few of their games. They are actually playing some good footy but they’re not getting the recognition for it.
“We’ve been in the same situation where we’ve been playing good footy but getting beat.
“People seem to forget that they finished in the top four only last year so Ricky Stuart will have them up for the challenge.”
• Shane Shackleton is a late scratching from the Sydney Roosters’ line-up for tomorrow night’s clash with Newcastle with a thigh strain;
• Shannan McPherson has been called into the South Sydney squad to replace Scott Geddes.