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1000 Games and counting

Battered by injuries to key players over the past month, Penrith veteran Luke Lewis says there is no way he will miss Friday night’s blockbuster against competition leaders St George Illawarra as the Panthers look to secure their first finals berth since 2004.

Lewis has been sidelined since Round 13 with a fractured toe – joining Lachlan Coote, Masada Iosefa and captain Petero Civoniceva in the casualty ward – but having trained strongly this week the 25-year-old told he was determined to take the field in a game that could make or break Penrith’s season.

“I should be pretty much right,” he said. “I’ve got to do a fitness test tomorrow but everything seems fine.

“It’s a massive game for the club against a team that has been dominating so of course I want to be out there but my fitness is good, I’m running well and I’m pain-free so I’m just looking forward to playing again.”

Such is the logjam of teams battling for top eight spots that the Panthers – currently in fifth position on 25 points – could find themselves closing in on the top four or in danger of missing the finals altogether depending on the result of Friday’s game.

Three teams sit locked on 24 points right behind the Panthers, while South Sydney (22), Brisbane (22) and in-form Parramatta and Wests Tigers (21) are all poised to capitalise on any slip-ups from their opponents.

But Lewis said it was important that Penrith ignored the NRL ladder and focussed on the task at hand.

“There is nothing we can really do about it to tell you the truth other than keep winning games,” he said. “As a group we have to just keep going out and playing footy.

“Obviously we need to keep winning but at the end of the day if we don’t win games then we don’t deserve to be there anyway.

“The idea is to be there at the end of the year and once you’re in that top eight anything can happen.”

Asked if the top four was still a realistic goal, Lewis said: “There would be no better feeling than finishing in the top four and getting a home semi-final.

“We know where we are and we know we need to win a few more games just to cement ourselves in the top eight, but we also know there is an opportunity there to get that home-semi.

“But at the end of the day we’ve decided not to worry too much about the ladder.

“We just want to win games and play good footy for each other.”

If anyone is familiar with success in Sydney’s west, it’s Lewis.

The veteran utility is one of just two players, alongside Trent Waterhouse, remaining from 2003 when a similar influx of local talent into the NRL squad propelled the Panthers to a stunning grand final win over the Sydney Roosters.

Having watched his side secure consecutive wins over Canberra and North Queensland before last Saturday night’s stunning comeback draw against the Warriors after trailing 32-6 early in the second half, Lewis believes the current batch is starting to exhibit similar qualities to the 2003 version.

“All of the young guys in our team are so used to winning (in the juniors) that they’re bringing that winning culture back for the older guys,” he said.

“I think that has helped us out a lot.

“As a group we’re all willing to help each other out so it’s that mateship thing as well.

“We’re all working hard as a group despite some adversity with injuries all the way through the team and our junior ranks as well.

“Everyone that has been given an opportunity to play first grade has not only taken their opportunity but also kept us in the top eight.”

Lewis said that although he would take the field this weekend he didn’t expect to play a full game.

“They just want me to go out and get a bit of time under my belt and enjoy it,” he said.

“I’ll come off the bench after probably 20 minutes and just play my normal role without having too much pressure on me.

“It’s just about getting back into the groove of things.”
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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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