Dream night for milestone man Lewis
Sharks, ex-Panthers, Kangaroos and NSW veteran Luke Lewis – one of rugby league's true survivors – got the perfect celebration of his magical 300-game milestone on Friday night with a win in front of home fans in a round that has plenty of personal significance.
The win returned Cronulla to the top four and helped their shaky 2017 home record; it came with a huge NRL Women In League round logo spray-painted onto the Southern Cross Group Stadium pitch, with the 30-metre markings repainted '300', and with the vast majority of the 12,123-strong crowd sporting cardboard Luke Lewis facemasks.
"Women in League round, it was just crazy it fell in that round to be honest," Lewis said after the win.
"Obviously a lot of women in my life mean the world to me. I'm stoked they were all here – it's awesome. It's been a really good week and a lot of good memories."
Lewis has endured more than most through his top grade career of 16 seasons and counting; his wife Sonia has helped him through not just highs and lows in terms of form and serious injuries but a two-year cancer battle to see the popular back-rower come out the other side and continue to put together some of the best form of his career.
The build-up itself was too busy to take the milestone in, he added
"I haven't actually had that moment where I've sat down and thought about it," he said.
"Over the last week and what the club's done and all the messages from fans and friends and people that I have been involved with in rugby league has been pretty special. It's brought back a lot of memories. It's been a crazy week. Over the weekend now, looking back, it's going to be a good week and a good memory."
Lewis was honoured to join the exclusive NRL 300 club which includes current teammate Chris Heighington and a raft of Lewis's former club-mates or representative teammates in including Petero Civoniceva, Luke Priddis, John Morris, Ryan Hoffman, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Nathan Hindmarsh.
"It's an honour just to be up there with those kind of players and to be in the game for as long as I've been in the game to get there," Lewis added.
"And the things you have to deal with is probably what you think about. There are a lot of good times in rugby league, there are a lot of down times. There are a lot of injuries, there is a lot of rehab.
"There are a lot of people you put your trust in to get you right and make sure you're doing the right things to get you back on the field and give you every opportunity to play as many rugby league games you can."
Of the other names on the illustrious list, Lewis said one of the key traits they all shared was a strong work ethic and dedication to preparation.
"Petero is someone I look up to so much and his work ethic is second to none. I learnt so much off him," Lewis said.
"I think when I look at that list, every one of them is the ultimate professional, work ethic is non-negotiable and I think if you were to task anyone who played with those guys, I reckon the first person on the field and last one off would pretty much be everyone you just mentioned in that 300-club."
Lewis's coach Shane Flanagan was relieved the club managed to get a win for the milestone after enjoying similar success with Heighington earlier in the season.
"Luke is a quality person. The way he's held himself through his whole career, there's been no scandal around Luke Lewis, he's a quality person on and off the field," Flanagan said.
"The players love playing with him. He's shown this year, he's continued his form, he's not tailing off, that's why we've re-signed him. He's continuing his form, he's just as good as he was 16 years ago. It's great to have him in our club."