Lewis leaves with a heavy heart
There's a little place by the Nepean River where Luke Lewis does backflips, frontflips and gets more than 20 feet above the water.
“I’ll definitely miss the wakeboarding,” Lewis lists as one of the first things that he will miss about Penrith. “I used to go there pretty much every pre-season and use that as my training.”
Of course, the popular cable park doesn’t quite fly you over the mountains, but that’s pretty much where Lewis felt a few days into the new year.
He described it as “being on top of the world”, the moment his dream was realised and was told he’d have the ‘c’ next to his name for the rest of his career.
Little did he know that just four months later, that honour would be gone and his life as a Panther would be at the crossroads.
“It’s been a year that, for me, I would like to forget,” the former Panthers captain reluctantly tells Big League. “The start of the year was the highest, the best feeling in the world for myself, getting the captaincy. But then I feel like I hit rock bottom when I lost that.
“But you know what, in saying all that, I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened. Over the past four months of my life, everything’s gone pear-shaped. I’ve learnt a lot.”
It wasn’t so much off the field, where the Blacktown junior has been happily married to long-time partner Sonia (pictured with Luke) for almost two years.
But it was more a lesson on the field where, for reasons neither club nor player will divulge, his 11-year relationship with the Panthers was beginning to wane. And losing that small but significant ‘c’ was the tip of the iceberg.
“Look, I think everything happens for a reason. I’ve definitely learnt a lot. It definitely gave me a lot of motivation to be successful away from Penrith,” was all the departing star could offer.
The break-up was sudden and swift and the NSW and Australian representative has played just one game in his treasured black jersey since.
But the 29-year-old wants to make it clear that he’s heading to the Shire with a heavy heart.
“I grew up in Penrith as a local junior and a Penrith supporter. I know the place like the back of my hand,” he says.
“I’ll always love the place no matter where I go or what I do. I’ll always call Penrith home. Everything in general about the place, all the people I’ve met and everyone that says hello… just bloody everything I’ll miss.”
Lewis speaks despondently about an abnormal lump on his neck that kept him from a Penrith Park swansong, an illness that had grieving fans accusing the local product of feigning injury.
“I would love to play one more game, but it’s highly unlikely. I’ve just got to listen to what the specialists are saying,” he says.
“If we made the semi-finals I’d definitely be back, but I’m probably going to miss it by a week or two. It’s just not meant to be.”
He speaks despairingly about the friends and team-mates he’ll leave behind after 208 games in the jumper. How he’s the second last link to the 2003 premiership team to cut ties with the club.
“There’s still ‘Big Phil’, who owns a fitness and body building shop in Penrith,” he says.
“He was there when we almost came last in 2002 and in 2003 he was with us there as well. He was out on the field when we won the Grand Final. He carried ‘Satts’ [Scott Sattler] around on his shoulders for the victory lap. I’ll probably still train with him from now up until I start at Cronulla.
“He’s been through everything with us and he’s just a good fella to have around, you know?”
Four years in the Shire will undoubtedly tarnish the legacy he will be remembered for as a Panther, but Lewis insists he’ll be back. As they say, you can take the boy out of Penrith, but you can’t take Penrith out of the boy.
“I’ve got a few ideas that I want to get started on next year, a few courses that I want to get done on top of the few I’ve done at Penrith,” he says.
“I’ve done my business diploma course and my personal training one. But I want to do my strength and conditioning course and my coaching credentials.
“I want to stay in rugby league. I love it to death and I’d love nothing more than to come back to do something I love: Give back what I’ve learnt over the years to the younger players.”