How rough start to 2023 steeled Garner for season’s biggest games

Luke Garner after winning the 2023 NRL Grand Final with Penrith last year. Photo: NRL Images.
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He was one of Penrith’s more well-known signings to start the 2023 season, however Luke Garner didn’t quite hit the heights many fans were expecting of him.

Tipped to replace Viliame Kikau in the back row, the former Tiger only notched up a dozen NRL games in Panthers colours last season due to several factors including injury and form.

It may have only been 12 games, but incredibly three of them were in the NRL Finals.

Despite being low on confidence due to lack of game time throughout the year, Garner was there when his coach needed him most – Grand Final Day.

“I was having a bit of a rocky year but finished it off with a ring,” he told the Weekender.

“It was a bit tough during the year not playing first grade, but I just kept staying positive, working hard and it paid off in the end.

“It was pretty surreal to win a premiership after getting the wooden spoon the year before arriving at Penrith.”

Luke Garner in a big collision against the Broncos. Photo: NRL Images.

Garner’s demotion to NSW Cup level after 75 first grade games with the Tigers was a shot to the ego for the 28-year-old, but being one of the senior players in the group allowed him to grow from the decision, which ultimately put him on a path to play in the most important games of the NRL season.

“It was hard to stay positive. Coming in week in, week out and not playing, it was hard to stay positive but there was nothing I could do about that,” Garner said.

“I could only control what I could control and that was training hard.”
After a rollercoaster first season at the Panthers, Garner will approach 2024 with a slightly different mindset – to be ready for anything at any moment.

His goal is to win another ring, and you can’t blame him for wanting that feeling again.

“That’s the goal, to get back and play in a Grand Final again. Whether I’m starting or on the bench, just pushing to win each week,” he said.

Meanwhile, fellow backrower Liam Martin is hoping to secure his fourth premiership ring when Penrith kick off their season against the Storm down in Melbourne next Friday, March 8.

Liam Martin. Photo: NRL Images.

With an 81 per cent career win percentage to his name, the 26-year-old said winning can be very addictive.

“I definitely want to feel that winning feeling again,” Martin declared.

“It’s a new year, we can’t keep dwelling on last year. We’ve got to start again.”

Season 2024 will also be the final year the Panthers play at BlueBet Stadium before the bulldozers rumble in at the conclusion of the season.

While the club is always farewelling players at year’s end, it’s not often you say goodbye to a beloved stadium too.

“It’s been our stronghold and such a great ground for us over the last few years, and we want to make this year – our final year there – special for our fans,” Martin said.

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