NRL grand final 2023 | Father’s tragic passing motivates Panthers journeyman Luke Garner to full circle moment, Panthers v Broncos highlights, exclusive

Throughout the Penrith Panthers side, there are players now wearing three premiership rings. With the majority at a young age, their time in the NRL has been surrounded by success.

However, Luke Garner’s journey to his maiden premiership hasn’t been so simple.

The passing of his father from a heart attack in 2019 was a major shock for the hard-working footballer who was born in Dubbo, but grew up in Nyngan before relocating to the Gold Coast.

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Before that tragic event, Garner toiled for his NRL debut.

Stints at Manly and the Roosters led to many under 20s and reserve-grade appearances. 

In 2018, his coach Ivan Cleary handed him his debut at Wests Tigers. Six appearances followed that season before Michael Maguire took over from Cleary the next year.

Garner’s father Mark died in May, and despite admitting previously that his form struggled, the second-rower’s career kicked on as he became a regular at the Tigers before being reunited with Cleary at the Panthers this year.

Now he’s a premiership winner, and the 28-year-old has no doubt his father would be beaming with pride.

”He’d be f—ing proud, he’d be super stoked,” Garner told Wide World of Sports.

”Just very happy, very happy.”

In the Panthers sheds post-game, the euphoria around a phenomenal comeback win was clear.

”Firstly, I want to thank everybody in this room and anyone who has ever supported us,” coach Cleary said.

”It’s been a long journey. I know this year’s team has been an incredible team, that’s one thing, but this is also part of three in a row.

”There are people here who have done so much for this team and club – players, coaches, staff members, they’re all a part of this three-peat.

”This group, man, I love you guys so much.”

Garner was one of many players surrounded by family and friends and it was a moment he’ll savour for a long time.

”It means the world, there’s no one else I’d rather be here,” he said.

”They mean the world to me, they’re a big part of the reason why I’m here and they’ve all come on the journey with me.”

With six years in the NRL, the length of time it took to reach the pinnacle of the sport wasn’t lost on the second-rower, reflecting on his journey from the bush to the big time.

”I think (a premiership is) what every young NRL player dreams of, or even a young footy player when you’re first starting out,” he said.

”It took me a fair few years now but I’ve finally got there.”

With the premiership ring on his finger, the achievement was a full-circle moment for Garner who went from a wooden spoon at the Tigers last year to grand final victory.

For him, the best part of joining the Panthers has come from the culture created by Cleary and his players.

”Sometimes you think about footy a bit like work sometimes, you sort of get humbled in pre-season and stuff like that, but they create a really fun environment,” he said.

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