OF all the players sweating it out this preseason in the hope of earning an NRL debut, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more deserving candidate than St George Illawarra hopeful Chris Lewis.
He’d be a late bloomer by NRL standards but, at just 25 he’s suffered – and come back from – enough serious injuries to end three careers. The Dragons certainly thought so having twice told him he was surplus to requirements before ultimately offering his his first fulltime contract in November.
It’s why his tale of persistence is one of the great stories surrounding the Dragons preseason – whether he ultimately climbs the NRL mountain or not.
"How long have you got?” is his joking response when asked to list his injuries.
“I did an ankle first year of 20s  with the Dragons so that was half of that season gone. Then I came back and dislocated my shoulder first training run back so that was eight weeks.
“I came back and finished the year in reserve grade at Thirroul and did my ACL. That was all in that first year that ended with a double re-costruction, knee and shoulder.
“I came back halfway through the following season and made my 20s debut. I actually rolled my ankle beforehand but didn’t tell the coach because I was so keen to play. It wasn’t up to scratch and after two games it blew up and that was the end of my 20s career.”
Lewis’ attempt to resurrect his career in the Illawarra Coal League a year later was scuppered by another ACL tear and in 2014, after a brief preseason trial appearance, he was also told ‘thanks but no thanks’ by the Illawarra Cutters.
It offered up another rugby league exit lane and Lewis admits he may well have taken it had he not ended up at Helensburgh in the Illawarra Coal League.
“I was very lucky to end up at Helensburgh under Ryan Powell who I played under at Shellharbour,” Lewis said.
“He helped me sort out how to play football again because I’d spent such little time on the park, running leads tackling technique and all those things you just forget if you’re not in the game.
“He really helped me along with that and it was special bunch of blokes up there, guys like Jarrod Boyle, Jason Raper, Blake Phillips big High-Tower [Steve McCallum] Smitty [Grant Smith].
“The quality of player and football in that comp is just ridiculous and you can go back there and become a really good footballer out of it.”
He won the 2015 premiership with the Tigers before earning another call-up to the Cutters where he was a key figure in the club’s 2016 Intrust Super double-crown.
A new contract with the Dragons followed, leaving Lewis determined to make up for lost time in 2017.
“After we won the second [Intrust Super] comp it was all a bit surreal,” he said.
“It’s what you work for and hope for all year but I guess you don’t expect it to really happen. I was just riding high off that and got the news about the contract a week or two later and it’s just been unreal since then.
“At the start of the year with the Cutters we all sat down and wrote down our individual goals and our team goals. For most of the team the goal was to play first grade or earn an NRL contract and the best way for that to happen was for us to win football games. It’s good so many of us have ended up with an opportunity out of that.”