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

League: Hooker is holding himself accountable

Issac Luke is taking a more positive approach to the 2017 NRL season as the Warriors prepare to face the Knights at Mt Smart tomorrow. Photo / Photosport
Issac Luke is taking a more positive approach to the 2017 NRL season as the Warriors prepare to face the Knights at Mt Smart tomorrow. Photo / Photosport

Three words from Issac Luke summed up his different approach at the Warriors this year.

The Kiwis veteran hooker had a mixed campaign in 2016.

He struggled to replicate his Rabbitohs form for long periods, and was heavily criticised for turning up overweight at the start of the season.

There won't be a repeat in 2017.

"I had to hold myself accountable ... and bring myself back in fine shape," said Luke. "I know what is expected. I don't need to prove a point [but] I just have to make sure I hold myself accountable for what I do and that is what we have been going through in pre-season."

The arrival of Luke and Tuivasa-Sheck were supposed to be game changers for the Warriors last year but it didn't happen.

There were some mitigating factors for Luke, especially the health issues with his young daughter early in the season.

But the much-vaunted Warriors spine didn't click early on, and the nadir was when Luke declared he "wouldn't pick himself" for the Kiwis' Anzac test team.

The biggest issue was his fitness; niggling injuries exacerbated that, but it was inexcusable for the player of his quality and experience.

By the second half of the season Luke had rediscovered his mojo; found his running game, became more of a leader and nailed pressure goals in place of Shaun Johnson.

This year there can't be any delayed impact, as Luke knows he has to be on song from the start.

"I'm not getting any younger so I have to make sure I am ticking all the right boxes," said Luke. "I have some things I want to do here so you want to be ready. And we have to make sure collectively we are doing that as well."

Luke's importance can't be overstated.

Much of the focus has fallen on new captain Tuivasa-Sheck, as well as Johnson and Kieran Foran, but no player on the Warriors roster will handle the ball more than Luke.

The No9 position has never been more vital in the NRL.

Luke is at the apex of the Warriors spine, and will be central to the new attacking system under coach Stephen Kearney.

"Everything has simplified itself and Mooks [Kearney] has brought in a basic structure and guidelines about how we want to play," said Luke. "Obviously we want to concentrate on where we are strong. [I've] got to make sure I bring myself into the game and need to run a bit."

Luke's offensive output last year was noticeably down on 2014, as he averaged just nine runs per game (12 in 2014) and 75 running metres (98.7).

Luke, like most around the Warriors camp, is quietly con-fident.

The energy around the team is good - "though it has always been there" but this year there is more clarity around what is expected on the field.

The first test comes against the Knights tomorrow, as the Warriors open their season at home for the first time in almost a decade.

"It's going to be great," said Luke. "I know some of the boys haven't played here in a round one game since they debuted. It's going to be a special occasion and we want to make sure we do our fans proud."

- NZ Herald

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