Cronulla captain Paul Gallen sees the signing of Luke Lewis as indication of how far the NRL club has progressed, admitting the Sharks could not have attracted a player of his ilk two years ago.
Lewis on Friday announced he would be linking up with the Sharks in 2013 – the Penrith, NSW and Australian star to call Toyota Stadium home for the next four seasons after securing an early release from the Panthers.
Not since the Sharks lured Test halfback Brett Kimmorley to the club in 2002 has Cronulla been able to recruit top-shelf talent, a remarkable accomplishment given the fact they were a shambles on and off the field just a few years ago.
“It just goes to show the steps forward this club has been taking over the past 12 months,” Gallen said.
“(I’ve) been here for a very long time and seen the good times and the not so good times.
“It just gives us an opportunity … adding someone like Lewis – who is a world-class international player – it just does a lot for the club and will do a lot to make other guys thinking about coming here too.”
Added coach Shane Flanagan: “To get an international to come to any club’s a big step.
“For us, what we’ve been through over the past couple of years, it’s really important.”
As for not being able to sign a player like Lewis last year, Gallen said: “I wouldn’t say 12 months ago, but definitely two years ago.”
Flanagan is keen on running out an all-Test back-row and wants to keep Kiwi international Jeremy Smith, despite him being linked with a move to Newcastle or a return to St George Illawarra.
“I want Jeremy to stay here and I’ve said that from day one,” Flanagan said.
“Jeremy’s quite happy here but he’s got some issues he’s working through at the moment.
“Luke Lewis has got nothing to do with Jeremy Smith.”
But he has plenty to do with the Sharks becoming a premiership powerhouse.
Already in the top four and eyeing a return to the finals this year without Lewis in their ranks, his arrival along with Penrith teammate Michael Gordon gives the Sharks an impressive look.
It’s what eventually tipped the scales in Cronulla’s favour for Lewis as he rejected bids from Wests Tigers and Parramatta.
“I definitely believe they have the players here and the coaching staff here and the direction they’re going, it’s definitely the way it’s looking,” Lewis said when asked if the Sharks were on the cusp of a premiership.
“I really believe Cronulla can do it and I just want to be part of that and love nothing more than to be part of a club to win their first premiership too.”