Lewis farewells fans, boots'n'all
Penrith 36 Gold Coast 22
Hard at work ... Penrith captain Kevin Kingston takes on the Gold Coast defence. Photo: Domino Postiglione
LUKE LEWIS packed his boots. Just in case. Lewis didn't play at Centrebet Stadium yesterday. However, he put in a solid 80-minute performance after the game was decided, shaking hands with the majority of the 7297 fans who stayed behind for his lap of honour.
''Mixed emotions, really,'' Lewis said as he farewelled his followers. ''I had my bag packed in the car, just in case something happened and I needed to play. I knew it wasn't going to be possible. I didn't want this day to come, to tell you the truth.''
The club's favourite son controversially had the ''c'' stripped from his name, which was put in perspective when he was diagnosed with another c-word - thyroid cancer.
Seemingly, the Panthers had so much less than the Gold Coast to play for. The Titans needed a win to stay alive in the finals race, the Panthers couldn't do much more than avoid the spoon.
But you only had to ask Kevin Kingston, the man who replaced Lewis as captain, what Lewis meant to the club to understand their motivation.
''Very special. He spoke to us during the week and you could see the passion in his eyes,'' Kingston said. ''He really wanted to play the back end of the season, especially in front of his home crowd.
''He's a legend at Penrith. Nothing is going to change that. We drew energy from that, seeing the passion in his eyes. You could see that in our defence today.''
It's not every day a man who doesn't even take the field becomes the story. But this isn't your average yarn. He may be shifting to the Shire but Luke Lewis is Penrith. He has played all his footy at the foot of the mountains.
In that time, he has won a premiership and represented state and country. Yet it was hard to pick out just one best memory.
''All the players I've got to play with,'' he said. ''All the people I've got to meet. I have a lot of memories from this great field.''
As is his way, he didn't want to make a fuss about his health scare. But the rumours - some suggesting he was feigning injury - finally prompted him to come clean.
''Didn't want anyone to make a fuss,'' he said. ''Little rumours coming out, I just wanted to knock them on the head.
''It's been quite an amazing response from the fans. I am very stoked that I got to stay back and say thanks.''
It was also a long farewell lap for Michael Gordon and Travis Burns, who will also move on next year. Gordon will follow Lewis to Cronulla after eight years with the Panthers.
''Probably when the season is over, I'll be able to look back and appreciate it a bit more,'' Gordon said. ''I've only got good memories.''
Lewis will probably pack his Panthers kit one last time.
''I am trying to organise going to Brisbane next week to see the boys,'' he said.
PENRITH 36 (B Tighe 3 M Jennings 2 J Mansour tries L Walsh 6 goals) bt GOLD COAST 22 (D Mead M Minichiello S Prince W Zillman tries S Prince 3 goals) at Centrebet Stadium. Referee: Gavin Badger, Steve Lyons. Crowd: 7,297