Off-contract hooker Issac Luke admits he is playing for his Warriors future, but is doing so with the slimmest waistline of his 12-year NRL career.
Coming off his first full pre-season since a 2007 freshman campaign with South Sydney Rabbitohs, Luke impressed plenty with his figure and fleet feet in the 32-20 upset of his old club in Perth.
In the cardinal and myrtle Luke forged a reputation as one of the best running rakes in the Telstra Premiership, only for the Warriors to see little of it in the past two years.
Luke freely admits he has struggled with his weight and fitness since returning to New Zealand on marquee money in 2016, and the 30-year-old needs runs on the board in quick time given his contract status and the pressure on Stephen Kearney’s side.
“It’s my last year at the club contract-wise so I want to put my best foot forward,” Luke told NRL.com.
“That’s obviously between my manager and the club. At the moment I have to just put together performances this year and hopefully stay on for the year and then next year sorts itself.”
With 113 running metres and five tackle busts, Luke had the Bunnies in all sorts around the ruck, and would have likely played out the entire match had he not copped a head knock with 11 minutes remaining.
Having lost his New Zealand Test spot and watched the World Cup from home, Luke was front and centre from day one of pre-season, a rarity in his 231-game career.
After a gruelling summer under the tutelage of trainer Alex Corvo, of Craig Bellamy’s famed Melbourne Storm pre-seasons, Luke’s playing weight is down to 85kg, the lightest he’s taken the field in some eight years.
It’s a far cry from early 2016 when the cheeky No.9 made headlines for his handling of media enquiries around his form and fitness, drawing a rebuke from then-coach Andrew McFadden.
Luke stresses that one game does not make a season, and neither does a summer spent slogging away on the paddock.
But in 2018 he is giving himself every opportunity to hit peak form, with adjustments to be made accordingly to his game and new frame.
“I haven’t had a full pre-season since 2007,” Luke said.
“I went back in the first week of November and it’s been a long one. They were really tough weeks, that six or seven weeks there, but it just goes to show tonight, just how hard we’ve been working.
“I haven’t been that light since 2010. I do lose a little bit of power in my contact which means I just have to be smarter.
“I have to look after myself a bit and change my targets (in defence), I can’t go high on the Burgess twins so it’s an adjustment that’s coming along.”