Simon Brunsdon | Fox Sports | December 21, 2018
Luke Lewis has opened up about his sudden departure from Penrith in 2012, which caused him sleepless nights and cost he and his wife their “dream home”.
A Panthers junior, the now-retired Lewis made his NRL debut for the club in 2001 and played 208 games in the famous strip, including a premiership in 2003.
He was made captain of the team prior to the 2012 season by football boss Phil Gould. But things started to go downhill almost immediately after that.
In his newly released autobiography, ‘Cool Hand Luke Lewis’ , he reveals how he was essentially forced out of the club he had supported since he was a child growing up in Doonside.
Under Gould and new coach Ivan Cleary, the club was forced to cut a number of senior players and withdraw contractual promises of pay upgrades due to salary cap tension. As captain, Lewis was caught in the middle of the chaos.
“During this early part of the season, Gus called in five senior players for a chat; me, Lachlan Coote, Tim Grant, Michael Jennings, and Sam McKendry. Apparently, we all had increases clauses in our existing contracts when the new salary cap was released by the NRL later that year,” Lewis writes.
“Gus said he didn’t think the club would be able to pay those increases, given the problems Penrith had with our salary cap at the time.
“It was made clear to me that as captain I would be part of the decision making process. I was asked if I had any ideas about who should have that clause taken out of their contracts. I didn’t think it was my job to identify those players.
“I didn’t want to be the guy who made someone take a pay cut, or god forbid, get them the sack.
“But the implication was also clear: if I helped solve the problem, I would be able to keep my increase as contracted.
“I went home that night to (wife) Sonia and couldn’t sleep.”
Lewis was then selected for the NSW Origin team and when he went into camp Cleary relieved him of the Penrith captaincy.
Lewis would not captain the Panthers again, and he says he never had a conversation with Gould or Cleary about the decision. That was when he felt like he was being pushed out of the club.
“All through the Origin series I couldn’t sleep or focus on football. For a long time, I didn’t know what to do,” Lewis says.
“I felt the club didn’t want me and I couldn’t work in that environment anymore either.
“I talked it over with Sonia. I rang my mother Sharon and said I was going to leave Panthers. When she asked why, I told her they didn’t want me anymore.”
It was in July that year Lewis announced he had requested a release from Penrith. In his book, he admits he found himself at odds with Gould, even during the media conference to announce the decision.
Lewis has now revealed the unseen damage it caused his family. He and his wife were forced to forfeit plans to build a house in Orchard Hills while he looked for another job.
“Sonia and I were two weeks off starting to build our dream house … we had our architectural plans finished, had chosen all our tiles and internal colours and were ready to pour our slab.
“We had to put that all on hold and we lost our deposit, as well as my day job.”
Lewis eventually signed with Cronulla, where he played 116 games and won another premiership before retiring at the end of the 2018 season.