Most players can only dream of achieving what Luke Lewis has in rugby league. And on Friday night he will add another accolade to a glittering career.
Lewis will become just the 28th player to play 300 NRL games when Cronulla host South Sydney at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
Lewis, who will turn 34 next month, has done it all.
He has represented at the highest levels over a long period with Australia and New South Wales, won two premierships and earned a Clive Churchill Medal.
But there was a time when a young Lewis didn't think he would lace a boot in first grade, let alone see his name sit alongside some of the greats of the game.
“That’s probably the part that stands out the most. I never really thought in my wildest dreams I would play five first grade games,” Lewis told the Leader.
“To be up there with those kind of people, [Darren] Lockyer, [Nathan] Hindmarsh, all these guys I’ve looked up to. Then there’s Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Ryan Hoffman who I was lucky to play with for Australia. I got to play with Chris Heighington in his 300th, Johnny Morris. I never thought in my wildest dreams you would hold my name up there. I’m pretty stoked.
“I don’t really know how I’m feeling at the moment, everything has come so fast. I’m super excited to run out in front of a home crowd with my family there and everyone who is important to me. But I’d give it all back for a win, I just hope we win and get our season back on track.”
The Sharks put in a performance almost as dismal as the weather when they were beaten by the Titans on the Gold Coast on Saturday night, just a fortnight after they put fellow premiership heavyweights the Sydney Roosters to the sword.
Lewis was hit by a bug on the morning of the game and only played the second half but will be fit for what is now a must-win clash against the struggling Rabbitohs after Cronulla slipped out of the top four.
A proud and loyal servant of Penrith, where he played 208 matches from 2001 to 2012 and won the 2003 grand final, Lewis switched to the shire in 2013 and helped the Sharks win their historic first premiership last season. He believes it was the best decision of his career.
“I had to go and reinvent myself at Cronulla and learn a lot again,” he said.
“I’ve just enjoyed it, enjoyed the footy. I think I needed the new challenge to move on and now I’d never change it for the world. I look back now having played nearly 100 games at the Sharks, winning the grand final and playing semis almost every year I’ve been here.
“I think being happy off the field has been the key, to be honest. I had a good chat with a mate of mine the other day and he said I seemed pretty happy. I look at everything and I’m the happiest I've ever been. I’ve got my wife and my daughter and I’m just enjoying my footy. I’ve got some really good people around me, good people who are really trying to help me play my best footy and put my best foot forward for life after footy.”
Part of that reinvention at Cronulla has come from his desire to look after himself, just to keep up with the younger players coming into the game. It is something Lewis credits to the care and work ethic of his teammates.
“A lot of those guys, Matty Prior and Jayson Bukuya, these kind of guys keep pushing me, especially in the last three or four years,” he said.
“Whatever they’re doing with diets they’re getting me into it too. They’ll have big weight sessions and do extra training on their day off and will be ringing me making sure I’m still going to do it with them.
“If I didn’t have teammates who really worried about getting best out of me I might not have lasted as long as I have.
“With first grade I think everyone who plays has made it for a reason but it all comes back down to doing all the little things and keep trying to stay healthy and fit. That’s probably the best advice I could give to young players. And you’ve got to enjoy what you do, that’s the most important thing.”
Lewis has signed on for a 18th NRL season with Cronulla next season and says he has the hunger to continue playing his best football.
He also believes there is a chance to add more premierships to his haul of accolades.
“I’ve never really looked back on my career until now but I feel very blessed to have had these opportunities to play with the players I have. It’s been a great ride, I suppose when footy is done and dusted those things I’ve achieved I’ll look back on more,” he said.
“[But] I want to be a little bit greedy. I want as many [premierships] as I can before I retire. A lot of hard work goes into it and I’m wiling to do it and that little bit extra. I think we’ve got the nucleus of a great side for the next few years.
“I’m excited and I want to continue to play my best into next year as well.”
Luke Lewis – career statistics
299 games (208 Penrith Panthers, 91 Cronulla Sharks)
116 tries (89 Penrith Panthers, 27 Cronulla Sharks)
Two premierships (2003 Penrith Panthers, 2016 Cronulla Sharks)
156 wins, 141 losses, two draws
NSW City (five appearances, 2004-08)
NSW (17 appearances, 2004-14)
Australia (16 appearances, 2009-15)