Panthers hooker Soni Luke believes he and fellow dummy half Mitch Kenny are getting better as a combination with every game they play.
Filling the boots of NSW Blues hooker and three-time Premiership winner Api Koroisau was always going to be a tough challenge for the pair to tackle, but after 13 rounds things are slowly looking up.
Speaking with the Weekender on Wednesday, Luke said he and Kenny are starting to complement each other well after what was a tough initiation to begin with.
“It’s good… Mitch gets in there, does all the dirty work up front for us – and that’s what he’s good at – and then I come on when the game’s been and done in that harder part and play my style of footy towards the back end there, whether that be before or after half-time,” he said.
After playing just four games in his debut season last year, Luke has played 10 matches for the Panthers in 2023, and is loving every moment of weekly NRL.
While he admits there’s been some challenges to overcome, like adjusting to coming off the bench and the general rigours of first grade, he’s very much “loving the ride”.
“I’m learning heaps and while not everything’s been smooth sailing, everyone’s looking after me, which has been really good,” Luke said.
“I’ve found it a bit different coming off the bench, not knowing whether I’ll get on before or after half-time plus there was a month where I was getting some good minutes but the body was a bit beat up from playing first grade week in, week out, but other than that, it’s been good.”
Before Penrith’s bye last round, the 27-year-old had the unique experience of playing two games in one weekend.
He played 17 minutes for the Panthers in their victory over the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium before backing up two days later in NSW Cup up against the Magpies in Leichhardt.
Luke revealed coach Ivan Cleary said it was important for him to get some more game time, in case he needs to be used more during the busy Origin period, where key players could be missing.
“A couple of days after playing in Brisbane, I went and played reggies and got some minutes there,” Luke said.
“I had a fair idea prior that I might go back for some extra minutes. It was good for me to get the body and the lungs going and get some more footy under my belt.
“We’re coming to an Origin stage here, so I might have to play bigger minutes.”
Off-contract at season’s end, Luke confirmed negotiations had finally commenced between his management and the club – and a new deal appears to be imminent for next season and beyond.
“I think we’re trying to get it sorted now… it’s in the works,” he said of his future at Penrith.
“We’re having a chat about it now and hopefully it’s all sorted pretty soon.”
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for a decade.