This time last year Luke Lewis was recovering from a shoulder reconstruction after suffering a serious injury while representing Australia at the World Cup in the UK.
Lewis crashed into a fence chasing a bouncing ball in the in-goal area, with the result being a dislocated shoulder, the end of his World Cup with the Kangaroos and a disrupted off-season.
Restricted to the rehab group during summer training sessions, Lewis was also absent from the Sharks Auckland Nines campaign, a tournament in which a young Sharks squad upset a number of more-fancied rivals to progress to the final four in the inaugural tournament.
Arm in a sling, Lewis was resigned to watching from his lounge room in Cronulla.
Not this time around however, with the Australian and NSW representative today named by coach Shane Flanagan as the Sharks Captain for the 2015 Nines tournament.
“I obviously didn’t get to play but I watched the games our boys played last year,” Lewis said of the 2014 Nines. “It’s hard for me to comment on what it might be like having not played in one, but all the boys said they enjoyed it.”
For Flanagan, the appointment of Lewis as skipper for the unique rugby league event is as much about rewarding him for his pre-season efforts as it is about slotting in a suitable replacement for club captain Paul Gallen.
“Gal won’t play in the Nines, it’s a long season and we want him right for the start of the year, but Luke has earned the right to captain this team,” Flanagan said. “He has led the way throughout the pre-season and the Nines captaincy recognises how well he has trained.”
As the coach indicated Gallen won’t be a part of the Nines squad, with Michael Ennis, Ben Barba and Andrew Fifita amongst the others expected to be excluded once the 16-man team is announced, however Flanagan has reason for resting some of his stars and will still name a team containing a number of outstanding youngsters and players suited to the unique format.
“We will put a real competitive side out there but I need to take into consideration we’ve got All Stars coming up, then we’ve got two trials after that. We’ve also got a few players in vital positions like Michael Ennis and Ben Barba that need to get some cohesion in game situations so I’ve got to keep that in mind when picking my Nines side,” he said.
“But we’ll send a competitive team. We’ve got some exciting young outside backs at the club, so I think we’ll do okay and I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Sharks have been drawn in a pool which includes the Sydney Roosters, Bulldogs and Broncos at the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines, which kicks off Saturday, January 31.