Best year of my life: Lewis
Clive Churchill Medallist Luke Lewis had no hesitation in labelling 2016 as the best year of his life following the Sharks' 14-12 Telstra Premiership Grand Final victory over the Melbourne Storm.
The veteran Cronulla back-rower's year was already a winner following the birth of his first child, daughter Hazel, in April.
Lewis capped off his season with a Man of the Match performance in the Sharks' first premiership win in the club's history.
The 33-year-old's intentions were made clear in the first five minutes of the match with his starring performance culminating in 149 metres, 28 tackles and an extra medal around his neck.
Lewis – who arrived at the club during the early rumblings of Cronulla's ASADA drama – said it is time the Sharks can finally move beyond their previous issues.
"2016 is a year I'll never forget. To come into this season knowing I was having a kid and to now win the competition. It's the best year of my life by far," Lewis said.
"To be a part of history at Cronulla, it's the best feeling in the world. When it's put into perspective, the first time they have won it in 50 years it's pretty crazy.
"I'm just so glad we got away with it and we can say a big thank you to the fans. I'm so glad we got the job done. Words don't describe how I'm feeling at the moment. It's surreal.
"We can forget about whatever has happened previously with this club and remember 2016."
Only former Broncos and Rabbitohs winger Lote Tuqiri can lay claim to a bigger period of time between premiership wins following Lewis's success on Sunday night.
Lewis played part in the Panthers' 2003 NRL Grand Final win – the "best team he's ever played in" – but said he could now further appreciate how much work it takes to win the ultimate game of the season.
The Blacktown City junior has been forced to deal with his Panthers exit, a cancer scare and more recently being overlooked for representative football in the 13 years between his grand final victories.
"When I was younger, I really enjoyed it. Don't get me wrong. It was a great day and one I'll never forget," Lewis said of the Panthers' 2003 victory.
"To be involved in this side now though – you don't win a competition for no reason. I've learnt a lot in my time and had a lot of ups and downs.
"I've been through a lot of adversity but at the same time I wouldn't change anything for the world. If I did, I wouldn't be here today."
Lewis said it was too soon to measure where his own performance ranks in his storied career.
"It was such a blur. I don't remember the game but I can't believe this thing around my neck at the moment. It's so special," he said.
"I felt like crying to be honest. I had to pinch myself and think 'is this really happening?'
"I wouldn't have been able to get it done without the boys. Really, the 17 guys should've been walking up there with me."