2020 has been a rollercoaster year for all of us, but before COVID-19 flipped the world on its head, Luke Cain felt all the feels in 2019. He went from disappointment and despondency when he missed out on making a team in the NRL Touch Premiership, to the highest of highs when he was eventually selected and went on to nab the Touch Dally M Medal for achieving Male Player of the Series.
The Central Coast local, now 21, never had a smooth ride to Touch Football success. “I played my juniors at Berkeley Vale and Peninsula in State Cups and Regional tournaments, but I had many setbacks along the way, missing out on making regional rep teams and NSW teams. But I was determined to keep persisting at what I loved.
“In my later junior years, I finally got the opportunity to play in those rep teams, and at 15, the Central Coast Dolphins approached me about playing Vawdon Cup – that year we won Division 2; two years later we took out State Cup in Division 1. I was the youngest member of the team and these boys were and are still like family. I currently still play with them in Prems.”
“Then 2019 started off with some disappointment,” he says of not being able to crack into a very strong Newcastle Knights NRL Touch Premiership side.
“During this time, I’d also made the Aussie squad for the Under-20s for the Youth World Cup, but the age criteria had changed and ruled me out for selection. Quite despondent and thinking it wasn’t my year for Touch, I got a phone call from Tony Trad.
“Tony had a position in his Tigers Premiership team and asked me to come to a training run so he could see how I go. He told me I’d have to be prepared to work hard and commit to training, which meant travelling down the M1, a four-hour round trip a couple of times a week.
“I remember driving down the M1 that first Wednesday night for training and thinking I have the biggest opportunity of my life here… don’t stuff it up. I trained hard and that night Tony congratulated me and welcomed me to the team.
“Our first game was in New Zealand and it was an awesome experience. Travelling with the boys, playing on the big stadium [Eden Park, Auckland], running out in a team with some of the best players in the world – guys like Goody and Buckley, after spending all those years wanting to be as good as them – it all was pretty surreal. from all the guys I’ve looked up to at Touch. It was an experience I will never forget. And the best part was I came away with Man of the Match.
“Being part of the Tigers, learning from Tony and the boys, playing on the big stadiums like Suncorp, Bankwest and even our home ground at Leichhardt Oval were all awesome experiences and great memories. The NRL Touch Premiership is a great competition. It showcases our sport on the big stage, and interest in Touch has increased immensely.”
On finding out the final vote tally had nabbed him the Player of the Series title, Cain says, “I don’t think I’ll ever forget getting the phone call from Jamie O’Connor. I remember asking him to repeat it again as I really didn’t process it the first time.
“The Dally M Awards night was like nothing else. Being amongst the biggest names in Rugby League – me, the unknown kid from the Central Coast. I was pretty stoked to be taking out this prestigious award. And yeah, walking the red carpet with Mum and Dad was unforgettable, Mum was in tears the whole way.”
If that wasn’t enough achievement for one year, Cain also made his first-grade debut as halfback for the Wyong Roos in 2019, though he says “I’ve enjoyed my Rugby League, but Touch Football has always been number one.”
So at that point Luke was feeling like “Bring on 2020!” and looking forward to what the next footy seasons would bring, including hopes “for a start in Origin”. But as for all of us, 2020 didn’t go to plan, so this year he’s put his energy into his study instead: “I’m doing my electrical apprenticeship and this year I’ve also taken on studying electrical engineering. I also bought my first home.”
He never stopped training through COVID lockdowns and was stoked to hear NSW had a return-to-play date. “I’m keen to get back and pass the footy around with the boys and work towards a few more goals.
“Bring on 2021!” he now says.