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Luke realises NRL dream after long road

Finally, there has been a bright light at the end of a very long tunnel - and sometimes a dark one - for Penrith Panthers hooker Soni Luke.

A mainstay in The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup side, Luke at the ripe old age of 26 made his NRL debut against Canberra Raiders last Sunday. In a 26-minute stint for the Panthers, he had a line-break assist, a try assist, four runs and 13 tackles (with no misses) in the 36-6 victory.

Coach Ivan Cleary gave him the news four days before the Raiders game.

“Ivan announced there was going to be a debut and I thought nothing of it,” Luke said.

“He ended up saying my name and emotions came on straight away. Lucky all the boys got around me because otherwise I would’ve been a wreck by myself.

“We were in the team meeting and it was something I’ll never forget. The boys went absolutely crazy, it was probably the coolest moment of the week.

“I’ve been in and around the team now for six-to-seven years and yeah, finally...

“I came through the same age as James Fisher-Harris and Dylan Edwards. Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai were the age under me, so we played a lot of footy together growing up.

“It was great to be able to finally play on the big stage with them.”

And it didn’t come easy. Luke has had three shoulder reconstructions on his right arm. He spent a year at the Wests Tigers, but when he came back to Penrith he tore his left pectoral muscle. 

“It was a pretty dark time,” Luke said.

Cleary said Luke had risen above all his challenges and could not be overlooked any longer.

“For one reason or another he’s had some adversity and a lot of injuries, but he’s stuck at it,” Cleary said.

“He’s a family man with a couple of kids, so his path is different. He’s just been outstanding in pre-season this year.

“He forced us to put him in the squad and he’s been playing really well.

“Mitch Kenny (who played NSW Cup last weekend) has been playing well too but I wanted Soni to get some minutes at hooker, so it was a nice time to put him in. He certainly didn’t look out of place.

“It’s a great story. Soni came through all our junior grades… a Mt Druitt boy… but has had to sit and watch some of the guys he played with, see their careers take off.”

Luke admitted he did wonder once or twice whether he should keep persisting to play NRL.

“Yeah of course, I questioned myself a lot during the process and missing out on teams and a lot of injuries,” he said.

“You do question it but I’m pretty thankful I hung in there and got out there.”

“That’s probably the hardest part, just watching all your mates debut. You kind of wish and hope as well but injury after injury kept stalling.

“I’m super stoked to be finally here though.”

He may be there again throughout 2022 and even more often next year. Kenny and Luke will be ready to fill the void Api Koroisau leaves when he moves to the Wests Tigers.

 

 

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.