Luke Lewis: In from the wilderness

He was once Australia’s perennial 18th man and for a while filled the same role in the NSW squad as well, but Kangaroos back-rower Luke Lewis believes it is his years spent on the periphery that have elevated him to where he is today.<br><br>Having waited a full five years between his State of Origin debut in 2004 and his belated recall last season – and finally earning a start for the Kangaroos in last year’s Four Nations after 160 first grade games – Lewis has since become a regular in the representative sides.<br><br>But rather than look back on his long wait with frustration, he insists it has helped him take his game to the next level over the past two seasons.<br><br>“I’ve learnt a lot over the past few years with being 18th man and all that stuff,” he told NRL.com ahead of Sunday’s crucial Test against England. <br><br>“It helped me realise who I want to be and what I want to do in footy. <br><br>“To be where I am now – I can’t even explain really how I feel but it’s something I never want to lose. <br><br>“My theory is that as long as every session or every game I come out of I learn something from it and take it back for my next game, I’m pretty happy with that.”<br><br>Lewis said that his years of close calls – including touring with the Kangaroos in 2004 but not playing a game – helped him appreciate how much work was needed to play alongside the big guns of the NRL.<br><br>“To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t change anything – I think everything happens for a reason,” he said. <br><br>“I think for me it gave me that little bit of extra motivation. <br><br>“I thought ‘Look how close I am to playing with these players’. It gave me that little bit of an edge in motivation to train harder to get into these teams – to do what I had to do to play with this calibre of player. <br><br>“I really believe that being 18th man all those years has helped me to get to where I am at the moment.”<br><br>Times have certainly changed for the 27-year-old. <br><br>Having waited so long, he played three games – including the final – on last year’s successful Four Nations tour and has played both games for Australia so far in 2010.<br><br>But, in many ways, he sees this as his chance to make up for lost time.<br><br>“It’s funny… just before the game last weekend I was talking to Paul Gallen and I said ‘How good does it feel to pull the Australian socks up?’,” Lewis recalled. <br><br>“It’s definitely something I want to do for as long as I can.”<br><br>“I mean, it was pretty tough to go down again in Origin this year and for Penrith to go two losses in a row in the finals was disappointing too – but to have your name in this green-and-gold side is a pretty special occasion and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. <br><br>“It’s something I dreamed of as a kid. <br><br>“To be doing it alongside the great players like Darren Lockyer, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and my captain Petero – to be playing in a Test with him with the amount of Tests he’s played is an amazing feeling.”<br><br>Lewis was a member of the Kangaroos outfit that beat Papua New Guinea 42-0 last week and although their performance wasn’t wholly convincing, he said it was the hit-out the side needed ahead of upcoming games against England and New Zealand.<br><br>“We hadn’t played together for a while and there were a few new guys in the side that made their debuts as well,” he said.<br><br>“I thought it was a pretty good start to the Four Nations competition. <br><br>“We could certainly be better across the park with our skill and listening to our halves but it was good to get that soreness out and get that first game out of the way.”<br><br><br>