Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Luke looks to next century

Issac Luke will be looking to continue his good form tomorrow. Picture / Getty Images
Issac Luke will be looking to continue his good form tomorrow. Picture / Getty Images

Issac Luke will reach 200 NRL games this weekend - and he's already contemplating the next century of matches.

The Warriors hooker plays his milestone match tomorrow against Newcastle, almost a decade after his NRL debut in 2007.

It's a significant achievement but Luke isn't one to dwell, instead wondering what more might be possible in his career.

"I wouldn't mind hitting 300 - who knows," laughs Luke. "That would be hard and I need to look after myself - maybe drink some of Ruben Wiki's special water. But I want to go on for a while, see what I can do."

Three hundred remains an improbable but not impossible goal. Less than 30 men have achieved it in NRL history, and Wiki is the only Kiwi.

Luke has been a remarkably durable player, but the 29-year-old would need to maintain form and fitness for at least four more years to reach such a mark.

But right now, it's time to celebrate the double century of a career that began in Melbourne on June 2, 2007.

The Storm had a star-studded team, with Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Ryan Hoffman, Greg Inglis and Israel Folau, and they were instructed to target the raw New Zealander on the Rabbitohs bench.

"One of their recruitment officers told them I was a 'spot player'," said Luke. "They mentioned my name and said 'he can't tackle'.

"Jeff Lima ran at me twice and I put him on his backside. Ben Cross ran straight at me, too. I was happy to make my debut but I didn't think I was going to play again, because we lost [26-10]. But [coach] Jason Taylor had a lot of faith in me and kept me in there."

Luke is the sole survivor from that Souths team, which included Nigel Vagana, Roy Asotasi, Nathan Merritt and Joe Galuvao. He missed only one match the rest of that season and by 2008 was established as first-choice No 9 at the Rabbitohs. He also encountered the Warriors for the first time in his second year.

"It was at Mt Smart," said Luke. "My whole family came up to watch. I remember facing Simon Mannering, Ruben Wiki, Sam Rapira. Sonny Fai also played, which is a pretty special memory. I kicked a couple of goals and we just won [35-28]."

After plenty of success at the Rabbitohs, where he was often rated as one of the top two hookers in the competition alongside Smith, Luke had to prove himself again at the Warriors.

He has struggled on and off the field in 2016 but there were signs last week against the Broncos that he is ready to shift gears.

"I was really happy to see him playing well and enjoying his football," said teammate Thomas Leuluai.

"We've had some good times with the Kiwis and it was only a matter of time. He showed how damaging he can be [against Brisbane]."

Luke needed to improve - as did the team - and hopefully the ascent continues tomorrow, on his special occasion.

"We have to back it up," said Luke. "But we just need to worry about doing our jobs and the performance and the score will sort itself out.

"This is a special game for me - like the match in Taranaki - but I don't want it to be about me. It's about us, as a collective."

- NZ Herald

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