Ciraldo praises 'massive footyhead' Luke
Penrith Panthers Holden Cup premiership-winning coach Cameron Ciraldo has praised young hooker Soni Luke after the Jack Gibson Medallist's performance in Penrith's 34-18 win over the Sea Eagles.
Having kicked off proceedings on the NRL's grand final day by scoring the first try of the Holden Cup decider, Luke ended the game with a tick over 100 metres and 33 tackles in his man-of-the-match effort.
Having known Luke since his SG Ball days, Ciraldo lauded Luke's love of the game and said the 19-year-old was a potential coach of the future.
"Soni's definitely one of my favourite players. He's in there every day. He's a massive footyhead. Soni will be a good coach one day and he's just a lovely kid," Ciraldo said.
"I've known Soni for three or four years now. I was there when he lost an SG Ball grand final. I saw how shattered he was. He's had a couple of those GIO Cup defeats as well. So I know how hard he works."
Luke was chuffed to take out man-of-the-match honours in a winning performance for his local club.
"It was a real good experience to play on grand final day. It was definitely a relief when the siren went and all our hard work paid off this year," Luke said.
"It means a lot especially with Jack Gibson's name [attached to it]. I see it as a sign of respect [to his legacy] to win the award.
"Growing up I was lucky enough to be signed by Penrith when I was 12 and just coming through has been exciting and a dream come true to win a grand final for Penrith."
The St Mary's junior offered compliments to his coach as well after Ciraldo's near-perfect first season in charge of the Holden Cup side.
"Cameron's real good too," Luke said. "Because he's young he understands what we go through every day. He's recently retired so he understands."
Having lost just four games all season long, the Panthers stuck to their game plan on Sunday in temperatures of up to 35 degrees to achieve the major and minor premiershiop double.
"It was so hot out there at times, it was ridiculous but we got through it so it was alright," Luke said.
"We just had our team goals and we really stuck to them all year. We prided ourselves on our defence so that definitely went well in the long run."
With the club's injury crisis not restricted to the first grade team, the Panthers under-20s had to heavily rely on some of Penrith's SG Ball stars coming through the junior grade.
"It was tough. We had a fair bit of adversity thrown at us," Ciraldo said.
"If you look at the blokes that were on the sideline, probably eight or nine of those were pencilled into our starting team at the start of the year.
"I just thought it was a real tough effort. Probably not our best performance, but [we] just kept turning up for each other, it was a hot day. They just did really well."
After leading the Panthers under-20s to their second premiership in three seasons, Ciraldo hasn't made his mind up about whether he'd like to coach a first grade team in the future.
"To be honest, I don't know. When Ivan [Panthers coach Cleary] gave me this job, I said I just want to have a crack and see if I'd enjoy it," Ciraldo said.
"I am really enjoying it, but after going through the stress of this week, I don't know if I could go to that level. I just got really proud to be involved with this group of kids.
"Saying it's my first year, to have that group as dedicated and as willing to make sacrifices as they are, I think I've been really lucky. I could've done exactly the same job with a group that wasn't that dedicated and we wouldn't have got the same result."