Tapped on the shoulder to prize pooch: Lewis's rise through Bulldogs ranks
A match-winning field goal capped Lachlan Lewis's 22nd birthday celebrations, but last Christmas the recently crowned 'Prince of Belmore' was being told he could take his services elsewhere.
Lewis has made a home at Canterbury in what has otherwise been one of the roughest campaigns in the club's history, nailing a clutch one-pointer to sink the Warriors and claim a fourth win in just his seventh NRL game.
The former Canberra five-eighth only found his way to first grade when Moses Mbye's exit to Wests Tigers opened up a spot in the Bulldogs' top 30 roster at the end of June, with Lewis debuting against Newcastle that same week.
But upon returning to pre-season training last November the club told Lewis he was unlikely to see NRL game time having dropped out of Canterbury's top squad, and he was welcome to try and pursue a first grade start at a rival club.
With his base level Bulldogs deal expiring at the end of 2018 and without a manager at the time, Lewis put the uncertainty to one side and pushed on regardless.
"One year into my two-and-a-half year contract they said you're actually not in the top 30 and you actually won't be able to play NRL, they tap you on the shoulder and say if you want to go somewhere else you can," Lewis says.
"I was on my own and I said 'stuff it, I'm going to train hard, develop my game and try and keep my head in the right place'.
"Going into pre-season knowing that you're most likely not going to be able to play because of the whole (top) 30 saga and no matter what happens it all comes down to how many dollars you're on - it was a bit of a blessing when they started to say 'we might be able to get you in the comp because you trained hard enough and you work hard'. That's all I wanted, that opportunity."
Despite playing out of position at centre in the InTrust Super Cup, Lewis was turning heads at Belmore from early in the year.
And when Mbye moved on and Kieran Foran was floored by a season-ending toe injury, Lewis finally got his chance.
Soon enough Wally Lewis's nephew was making his own name and back on Brisbane's radar as just one of a few clubs interested in the composed young half who cut his teeth tackling truck tyres as a kid.
But with the assurance of getting first crack at the No.6 jersey alongside Foran in 2019, Lewis re-signed last month for another two years.
With Lewis and Manly youngster Manase Fainu the most high profile cases of rookies being held back from debuting as they weren't initially part of their club's top 30 squads, clubs, the NRL and RLPA will meet for a feedback session on the game's new rostering model this week.
It's understood club representatives will push for a tweaking of the system that allows for the three to six development players at each outfit to be available for first grade selection.
As revealed by NRL.com recently, definitive top 30 squads could be published for the first time next season, a move Lewis welcomed having struggled himself on the fringe of first grade.
"It's very hush hush the top 30," Lewis said.
"Not many clubs reveal who's in the top 30 and to be honest it's a bit of an unspoken thing and if you're in that position, gosh it's tough.
"There's only so many teams in the NRL, there's only so many clubs and it's a competitive environment. At the end of the day the best make it and whoever works the hardest and works at it the longest and keeps their head in the right place makes it."