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Luke Lewis with wife Sonia and daughter Hazel.

Luke Lewis never planned to write a book on his life and career, but now he has, one message shines through loud and clear – the belief everything happens for a reason.

Lewis restates this mantra several times in a lengthy interview with as he does the media rounds to promote his new book, "Cool Hand Luke Lewis".

It's why he never feared his career was over when he was stunned by a thyroid cancer diagnosis in 2012, why he holds no ill-will towards anyone over his controversial departure from beloved junior club Penrith at the end of that year or why he wasn't the slightest bit fazed by his shock Origin omission after he helped the Blues break their drought in 2014.

From wild winger to forward winning Clive Churchill Medal

No Luke Lewis story would be complete without at least mentioning his transition from a powerful young winger, who won the 2003 grand final at Penrith, to the workhorse back-rower who was judged best on ground in the 2016 grand final.

Simply winning premierships 13 years apart is a rare enough feat, to have been a good enough outside back to play for Australia before earning green and gold honours in the forwards is rarer still. In between, the 35-year-old spent the better part of three seasons in the halves, starting every position bar fullback, prop and hooker in his 324-game career.

Luke Lewis began his career on the wing for Penrith.
Luke Lewis began his career on the wing for Penrith. ©NRL Photos

The initial move to the forwards came about by chance and changed his career.

"I remember playing against the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown [in round four, 2008] and Adam Woolnough ended up doing his knee and Matty Elliott said 'you have to go and play lock'," Lewis recalled.

"So I went and played lock and never looked back from there. That brought all the love of the game back. I played wing, played centre, went through a lot of highs, got to play Origin and for Australia.

"Then I had a few injuries, things went backwards, hit a real flat patch, didn't know how to move forward then got that opportunity to play lock, found my feet, found the love of the game again and even though I played all different positions that was the one I loved the most.

"I only got to play there about two years of my career but it was my favourite position. That was the point in time my career changed, that night at Campbelltown Stadium against the Wests Tigers."

It was even more remarkable given Lewis started that game from the bench because it was his first match of the year due to a broken finger suffered in the trials.

He believes those early years playing out wide helped him learn the job of a forward before he was actually required to play there.

Luke Lewis on the run for the Blues.
Luke Lewis on the run for the Blues. ©NRL Photos

"I got to watch the game first hand, being on the field and understanding what it took to become a first-grade player, watch all the great players I was playing with and against, the way they played the game," Lewis said.

"I learned a lot off them so when the opportunity came to move in I'd had this experience of playing against good players but in a different position so I could put it into practice, in the centres I wasn't making as much of an impact and you'd watch these back-rowers running beautiful lines and working with their halves and working over the halves and I was learning that from a different position."

Two premiership rings 13 years apart

Lewis says while he didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of Penrith's 2003 achievement at the time, he can draw plenty of parallels between that side and the Cronulla team that triumphed in 2016.

"In 2003 I was a young kid and just going along for the ride," he said.

"Royce Simmons put this team together, Johnny Lang came over and coached us to a premiership. I had mates I'd played with for a long time so we were always rocking up, having a good time, mucking around but everything fell into place.

"I took it for granted, I thought 'this is normal, we'll win, we'll play a couple of semis, get the opportunity to play in a grand final and see what happens from there' and it sort of did happen like that.

"But when I go through all the hard times between 2003 and 2016, that's when you appreciate the opportunity you had. Our older guys in 2003 had been through a lot of heartache and tough times but they stuck together.

"It's exactly the same as what happened at the Sharks, we'd been through some hard times, the older guys had been there for a while.

"We had a few good guys come over like Mick Ennis and Ben Barba and young kids like Val Holmes, Ricky Leutele, Sosaia Feki. When I compare the two teams it's actually very similar. The way we played the game was different, back in 2003 we relied on 'well if you score 20 we'll score 24' whereas the Sharks team, we built our team on working hard for each other.

Luke Lewis tries to break the Parramatta defence in 2004.
Luke Lewis tries to break the Parramatta defence in 2004. ©NRL Photos

"For four months straight we didn't lose a game but a lot of those games we only won by four or six points so we had to dig deep and scramble, get in the arm wrestle, fight back into games and built a lot of belief there as well. It was two totally different teams but with the same dynamics."

Lewis unsurprisingly has plenty of fond memories of the exciting brand of footy the Panthers brought to fans in 2003.

"That year, [back-rowers] Joey Galuvao and Tony Puletua tore teams apart by themselves. Preston Campbell was making breaks from nothing, Rhys Wesser was scoring 90-metre tries. Everyone just came together and confidence was flying high.

"I remember grand final week like it was yesterday. We were so relaxed, didn't train too much, played a bit of soccer at Penrith Park, went to the grand final breakfast and looked across [at the Roosters] and though 'far out these guys look intense'.

"But we were all young kids, mucking round, flicking food at each other, having a laugh and enjoying the experience and everyone was chilled out, music playing, Gowie was asleep in the change rooms, Preston came up on the big screen mucking around and waving to the crowd.

"We kicked off, got bashed off the kick off, Gowie [Craig Gower] got a good kick away and we defended from there, got in the arm wrestle. I knew after Satts made that tackle [Scott Sattler's memorable try-saving cover tackle on flying winger Todd Byrne] we were never going to lose."

The other bright moments

Lewis ended up making four trips to England with the Kangaroos; he only played the warm-up games on his first in 2003 and was forced home early by a shoulder injury on his last, in the 2013 World Cup, but wouldn't trade any of it.

"The [memory] that stands out which was funny was the World Cup in 2013," Lewis said.

"I did my shoulder and had to come home but I watched all the games and after they won the final, they got the trophy, jumping around, and I thought 'how good' but I was disappointed I wasn't there.

Luke Lewis wore the green and gold with distinction.
Luke Lewis wore the green and gold with distinction. ©NRL Photos

"They were in the sheds after the game and had the trophy there and put my photo in front of the trophy and were all sitting there getting a photo and sent it over via Whatsapp, getting pictures, it was just a really good feeling.

"2003 was my first Kangaroos tour, went again 2009 and 2013and had a Four Nations in so I went over there four times which was pretty cool.

"We got to travel together, see the world.

"We got paid back then in cash – here's an envelope with your thousand pounds for the week, you get it every Friday. A lot of the boys would jump on a plane and go to Prague, Barcelona, Amsterdam. Not just one or two would go, it would be a group of five or six of us."

A tumultuous and life-changing 2012

Lewis had plenty to deal with in 2012, with an operation to remove a cancerous mass in his throat followed by a departure from his beloved Panthers, where he was captain by that time.

Again, Lewis insists everything happens for a reason.

"It all happened so fast," he recalled.

"It felt like to me, it happened in a week. You've got cancer, go get surgery, next thing you're in hospital, gets cut out, before you know it you're back on your feet, no one knows about it.

"Then everyone finds out so you have to come out and tell everyone. I tried to keep it to myself, I didn't want anyone to think I was asking people to feel sorry for me so I tried to keep it as quiet as I could.

"Leaving Penrith was tough, it was a team I supported my whole life, captain of the club at the time and I wanted to be there and captain them to another grand final which would have been amazing.

"But again, I live by the idea that everything happens for a reason. At the time it doesn't make sense but it does in the future and in 2016 I realised the reason I had to leave Penrith was so I could be out there that night [after winning the grand final] with my daughter and my wife.

"I have no hard feelings or any animosity toward anyone at the club or anything, I still love both clubs. I'd love to see a Cronulla-Penrith grand final!

"My mentality [at the time] was, I'll rest for six weeks, get this right then get back into training.

I still love both clubs. I'd love to see a Cronulla-Penrith grand final.

Luke Lewis

"I never thought that [it might be the end of my career], I'll just get through this, have a good pre-season and get to round one.

"I started to get my confidence back, went on the World Cup, came back and had a shoulder reco, had a terrible year 2014, then 15-16 was an awesome two years, didn't miss many games.

"They were the fun times but you go through the hard part before the good times come. They were the tough times but it was well worth it for 2015-16."

Did a change of medication cost Lewis his Origin spot?

Plenty of Blues fans were baffled by the fact Lewis helped the side to a drought-breaking series win in 2014 then was dropped in 2015 despite his form improving.

Lewis says a poor game right before the teams were picked, caused by a change in his medication, may have been the cause. Either way, he believes the omission may have extended his career to allow him to do what he did in 2016.

"We won the series in '14 and I was having a really good year in '15 but I had one hiccup because I had to change my medication for my rheumatoid arthritis," he said.

"The new medication gave me real bad breathing problems and I had one game where we were playing against Gold Coast Titans up there, having a pretty good game, [round 10 right before Origin sides picked], I scored a try, we won [23-22] but I couldn't breathe properly, I had to keep going off, it felt like I was breathing through a straw but it was because of the medication.

"I think [Blues coach] Laurie [Daley] got a bit worried about the medication I was on. It was only for a week then I got off it and I was fine after that but ended up missing the Origin. But again – would I have still been playing NRL in '16 if I played Origin in '15?

"I always look at it as a positive. There's every reason I wasn't supposed to play Origin in '15 because if I did I may not have had the opportunity to play in '16 which gave me the opportunity to win the grand final. I wasn't distraught or devastated at all, I still watched them hoping they'd win, I was still a massive Blues fan."

Luke Lewis with daughter Hazel for his 300th NRL game in 2017.
Luke Lewis with daughter Hazel for his 300th NRL game in 2017. ©NRL Photos

Weight off the shoulders once retirement came

Lewis believes that mentally, he could have gone another year or two but by the start of the 2018 season his battered body had simply had enough.

"It was funny, I was starting to have a few thoughts in the back of my head early in the pre-season," he said.

"I thought I'd wait and see how I'm going through the year. I got halfway through pre-season, coming into trial games, my plantar fascia was getting really sore, I tore my plantar fascia in the captain's run of the first game this year and missed the next three weeks, couldn't walk.

"I got it right, got back on the field, started playing, three weeks in I tore my calf. I thought 'if I get another injury I think I'm done'.

"Came back, tore my calf again but on the other side this time and thought 'I think I'm done'. But I didn't want to make a decision based on a couple of little injuries.

"Got another three or four weeks back in, my calves started to feel funny again and thought 'I'll have to call it at the end of the year'. I had a good chat to my mum and my wife, told them what I was thinking.

"I ended up telling the boys at training in a video session then literally as I said it to them I felt like the world had been lifted off my shoulders and my body went from having a funny feeling in my calves to, bang, it all just disappeared. It was weird.

"I had a really good week at training and a few good weeks on the field. It was like my body said 'ok I'll get you through the next 12 weeks'.

"It got me through to the end of the season, played the last game against Melbourne in Melbourne, I tore it again but didn't want to go off the field because it was my last game so I stayed on as long as I could, came off with seven minutes to go.

"Mentally I feel like I could continue to play but my body was saying it was time to call it. I think I got out at the right time, I'm still in love with the game."

Luke Lewis takes on Cooper Cronk in the first Origin of 2013.
Luke Lewis takes on Cooper Cronk in the first Origin of 2013. ©NRL Photos

So why the book?

Lewis says his first instinct was to decline the book offer and it was really just a quirk of fate and timing that changed his mind.

"I got approached by a couple of people in early 2018 who asked if I'd be interested in writing a book and I actually said no," he said.

"But I go into some entrepreneurial books, short reads and one of them said 'just say yes to everything' because if you say no to something you won't know if you'd have liked it or not. So I said yes."

What followed was several months of spending three hours after training every Monday with author Alan Whiticker, with the book process dragging out until Cronulla's 2018 fate was finalised one week before the grand final.

Luke Lewis farewells Shark Park.
Luke Lewis farewells Shark Park. ©NRL Photos

"It wasn't a real plan to write a book, I just got approached. They (New Holland Publishers) had a board meeting, there was about 12 or 14 of them on the board and they all picked someone to write about and apparently most of them said myself. I was very honoured to hear that so I said why not," Lewis added.

"[Whiticker] would come round about 1pm every Monday, we'd talk for two or three hours and just have a general chat.

"We went from childhood all the way through to the season that was coming to the end.

"It was more about my childhood, where I grew up, what I believe in, what I went through with domestic violence, the opportunities my mum gave me, breakout stories from coaches and players and media guys having a say on what I've done through my career which was pretty cool to read."

Cool Hand Luke Lewis.
Cool Hand Luke Lewis.

Cool Hand Luke Lewis can be purchased from all good bookstores or online at

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