Last night, Luke Lewis announced his retirement. The former Panthers great and current Sharks legend will bring the curtain down on his illustrious career at the end of the 2018 season.
Although his retirement may not bring with it the fan fare of the announcement of Johnathan Thurston, perhaps it should.
Lewis, a premiership winner at both the Panthers then the Sharks, is not only one of the best players of the modern era but is also one of the game’s good guys.
It’s perhaps customary to say that about all retiring players but in Lewis the statement simply could not be more accurate.
Judging by the reaction across social media last night, Lewis is among the game’s most admired players. Fans of all clubs rushed to post photos and memories of the 2016 Clive Churchill Medalist.
It almost feels as though Lewis has been around forever. Looking at his stats, he pretty much has. At least for the years I’ve been watching rugby league.
Although currently out injured for his club, Lewis will be back to help his side in one last finals tilt.
The Sharks now have extra motivation to capture their second Premiership in three years. They sent retiring legend Michael Ennis out a winner, and the push to send out Luke Lewis with his third winner’s medal will be strong.
To date Lewis has played 315 NRL games. He first played 208 NRL games for the Panthers, including the 2003 Premiership decider.
It’s hard to imagine now but Lewis made his name early on in his career from the wing. He was a star out wide for the Panthers and formed an incredible wing partnership with the hugely underrated Luke Rooney.
To be honest I never expected Lewis, who soon moved into the halves and then into the second row while still in Penrith, to leave the foot of the mountains.
When it was announced that he was possibly moving clubs both the Sharks and Tigers chased his signature with great vigor. Ultimately the now Origin and Test star chose to play the remainder of his career in the black, white and blue of the Sharks.
Fans in the Sutherland Shire rightly celebrated the signing with great enthusiasm.
Lewis would end up representing the New South Wales side 17 times and the Kangaroos on 16 occasions. He also added an NRL All Star jersey and six City Origin jumpers during his career.
It’s at the Sharks that Lewis went from incredible footballer to club immortal.
His efforts at the Sharks were the stuff of legends. The Sharks literally won games on the back of their star back rower. He also sent time in both the halves and even out in the centres as form and injuries dictated.
He will be remembered fondly for his efforts at the club beforehand, but it was the night of October 2nd, 2016 that will see a Luke Lewis statue erected in Cronulla mall.
Although some will question the overlooking of Andrew Fifita as the night’s best on ground, Luke Lewis was ultimately awarded the CCM as man of the match.
Re-watching the game – numerous times for purely research purposes – Lewis was certainly head and shoulders above all others not named Fifita. No one can begrudge the man who was chiefly responsible for ending the NRL’s then longest title drought.
People will remember his early bust where he was tackled literally an inch from the line. A lesser man would have reached out to attempt to open the scoring but the supremely experienced Lewis knew better.
What they may not remember is the amount of work Lewis did throughout the game. He made incredible, at times last ditch tackles, and made many dirty and tough metres.
He busted tackles and created space for Ben Barba, James Maloney and Valentine Holmes. He was immense. It’s an effort that will literally go down in history in the Shire and beyond.
Having met Lewis on many, many occasions I personally having nothing but the best to say about him. He’s always got a smile on his face, has all the time in the world, and is one of if not the best representative of the club.
The same can be said about the game of rugby league itself.
I’m sad to see Luke Lewis go but watching his career has been an absolute pleasure.
I’m certainly not writing off the chance of another Grand Final win to send him out the true champion he really is.