Cronulla NRL utility Luke Lewis says he still loves Penrith and bears the club no ill will as he prepares to return to his old home stadium for the first time since his enforced move.
Penrith junior Lewis quit the Panthers against his will after 12 seasons and 208 games and linked up with Cronulla prior to the 2013 season.
Since the move, he has played against his old club just once, on neutral territory in Bathurst last year when the Sharks won by two points.
“It was hard to leave there,” Lewis told AAP of his move from Penrith.
“I didn’t leave there because I wanted to leave, it’s just the way things happen and it is a business.
“For the Penrith club to move forward, that’s just how it was.
“For me, I’ve got no hard feelings, I still love the place.
“I’ll never forget where I come from, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity of going back out there.”
The Panthers still have plenty of respect for one of their former favourite sons, but they also recognise the danger the Blues and Kangaroos stalwart poses.
“He’s going to want to come out and do well there and I think the (Penrith) fans will still be behind him,” Panthers fullback Matt Moylan told AAP.
“He played over 200 games for the club, so he’ll still have some fans out there that will want to see him do well, so we’ve got to just try and minimise his impact on the game.”
Lewis’s return to Pepper Stadium, along with two other former Panthers, Wade Graham and Michael Gordon, is one of the intriguing sub-plots of a game both clubs need to win to stay in touch with the top eight.
Both entered the round two points off eighth, with the Panthers having lost four of the past five matches after winning their first two.
Conversely, Cronulla lost their first four fixtures, but have won their past three, claiming notable scalps in the Sydney Roosters, Newcastle and South Sydney.
“They’ve knocked off two off the competition heavyweights in Souths and Roosters, so they will be flying high and ready to come out and rip into us, so we’ve just got to come out confident and back ourselves with everything we do,” Moylan said.
“This last month we probably haven’t played the type of footy we want to play and that we were accustomed to playing last year, so we want to try and get back towards that.”
Cronulla will have just six days to recover from playing the Rabbitohs in wild weather conditions.
They will be missing a fair bit of forward firepower, with Paul Gallen out indefinitely with a hip-related injury, and brothers Andrew and David Fifita unavailable.
Penrith also have some key players missing in James Segeyaro, Dean Whare and Brent Kite.