As the season comes to an end for 2017 so do the careers of some NRL stars, for some players injuries made it impossible to continue whilst father time has caught up with other long time fan favourites. Either way the final round of our regular season has given us the chance to say goodbye and thanks for the memories.
2005-2016 – 215 NRL games for Sydney Roosters, Canberra Raiders & Gold Coast Titans – 14 Tests for Australia & 8 Origins for Queensland
David Shillington is one of the more accomplished players on the retiree list for 2017 after enjoying a long and successful career in both club and rep football. Although Shillington was forced to retire due to chronic injuries before playing a game this season its only fair he’s on the list.
Coming through the ranks in Brisbane, Shillington was recruited to the Roosters with big wraps and although he never quite reached his full potential at Bondi he was recruited to the Nations Capital in 2009 where he had his breakout season for the Canberra Raiders which earned him Rep debuts for both Queensland and Australia.
Winning a NRL Premiership eluded Shillington but he enjoyed winning 5 Origin series with Queensland and tasting 4 Nations success with Australia. Shillington finished his career with Gold Coast Titans and will be remembered as one of the more ‘tougher’ and ‘un-comprimisng’ Front Rowers of his time.
2003-2017 – 233 NRL Games for Manly Sea Eagles – 1 Test for Australia & 8 Origins for NSW
If Brett Stewart played in any other era he would likely have been the best Fullback of his time and although Billy Slater edges him out on that honour those two electrifying No. 1’s had many battles throughout their careers with both enjoying victory at different times. The rivalry between Melbourne and Manly threw up many great battles including the 2007 and 2008 Grand Finals and the match up between the Fullbacks was always one of the main attractions.
Growing up in Wollongong, Stewart moved to Manly with his brother Glenn and the two formed part of a core group of players who would treat Manly fans to years of success resulting in two Premierships. Despite being embroiled in an ugly court case in which he was acquitted of Stewart will be remembered as one of the good guys, a true clubman who played out his entire career at the Sea Eagles.
Stewart’s greatest asset was his speed and ability to find the tryline finishing his career with an amazing strike rate of 163 Tries from 233 NRL Games and sits 6th on the all time try scorers list. Injury robbed Stewart of a chance to add to his tally this season but he can be proud of a great career and he will always be the ‘Prince of Brookvale’.
2005-2017 – 230 NRL Games for Manly Sea Eagles – 10 Tests for New Zealand
Steve Matai is yet another retiring star that was struck down by injury and failed to play a game in 2017 and for a bloke who seemed to play his whole career through the pain barrier its no surprise that the injuries finally caught up with him. Matai played most of his career with a nerve injury that effected his neck and would often be seen holding his shoulder in pain and despite looking like he was unable to continue playing he would push through the pain.
Despite his neck issues Matai is best remembered for his tacking style and massive hits he would put on, usually against players twice his size like when he put on the ‘shot of the year’ when he smashed Rabbitohs prop Dave Tyrrell in 2015. Matai’s tackling style got him in trouble though especially in the 2007 end of season Test Match between Australia & New Zealand when Matai hit Mark Gasnier high with a shoulder charge which resulted in Matai being sent off.
Matai’s path to the NRL was different to most as he came up through the ranks in New Zealand’s National Competition the Bartercard Cup. He moved to the Queensland Cup in 2003 and was signed by Manly in 2005 where he spent his entire career becoming a key member of Manly’s Golden era. Matai is seen as one of the best players to come through the New Zealand National Competition.
2004-2017 – 240 NRL Games for Sydney Roosters, Cronulla Sharks, Newcastle Knights & 25 Super League Games for Wakefield Trinity Wildcats – 11 Tests for Australia, 1 Test for Tonga & 4 Origins for NSW
The name Anthony Tupou was being talked about long before he debuted for the Sydney Roosters in 2004, as a young kid coming through the ranks at Newcastle Tupou was ‘destined’ for big things. The Roosters identified Tupou as a player of the future and lured him from the Hunter to Bondi with one of the richest offers seen for a junior player at the time. Tupou made his debut a year later than scheduled after snapping his ACL in a trial match in 2003 a sign of things to come for Tupou as he struggled with injuries throughout his career.
In his early days at the Roosters there was no forward in the NRL more damaging than ‘Tups’ as his trademark hard running style and ability to offload the ball in tackles drew comparisons to the great Arthur Beetson. Tupou quickly caught the eye of rep selectors and debuted for Australia in 2006 before playing State of Origin the following season. Tupou followed coach Ricky Stuart to the Cronulla Sharks in 2009 signing a rich 4 year deal, although form and injuries restricted Tupou from reaching the same heights at the Sharks.
In 2015 Tupou signed a deal to move to the English Super League to play for the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats where he spent one season before heading home for family reasons. Tupou approached the Newcastle Knights for a contract for the 2017 season and despite coach Nathan Brown saying no at first some ‘unforseen’ roster changes opened up a spot for an experienced forward on the Knights roster and Anthony Tupou signed for the Knights. Although he was well past his best and injuries restricted Tupou to just the four NRL games, it was some what fitting that one of the most ‘promising’ junior products to come out of Newcastle would finish his long career in the Red & Blue.
2004-2017 – 177 NRL Games for Manly Sea Eagles, Parramatta Eels, Cronulla Sharks & New Zealand Warriors
Jeff Robson will be remembered as ‘Mr Reliable’ for he was never a flashy Halfback or a brilliant ball player but he was always a player his coach and fellow players could rely on. Robson spent most of his early career in and out of first grade before finally nailing down the No.7 jersey at Parramatta in 2009 when Parramatta rode the momentum of the Jarryd Hayne ‘Hayne Plane’ season all the way through to the Grand Final.
Robson spent the next two seasons at Parramatta before joining Cronulla in 2012 where he played the perfect foil for halves partner Todd Carney as they led the Sharks to consecutive finals appearances. Although Carney was sacked in 2014 Robson again formed a good partnership with Rookie Jack Bird and again led the Sharks to finals Football in 2015 a great effort considering the club had gone through the ASADA dramas and a wooden spoon the year before.
Robson was again deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ after the 2015 season and took up a contract to partner Shaun Johnson in the halves for New Zealand Warriors in 2016, things didn’t work out for Robson in New Zealand and moved back to Parramatta mid season. Robson was much maligned by the public but coaches were always happy to have him as they knew he could get the job done.
2007-2017 – 220 NRL Games for Manly Sea Eagles & Wests Tigers – 1 Origin Match for Queensland
The third retiring member of Manly’s Golden era through the late 2000’s Matt Ballin was the ‘un-sung’ member of the squad, a hard working tackling machine Ballin was a key player in a side that enjoyed so much success. Growing up in Kingaroy Ballin came through the Junior system at Brisbane but signed for Manly in 2005, two years later making his debut.
Once Ballin worked his way into the Sea Eagles side in 2007 he barely missed a game and established himself as one of the ‘iron-men’ of the game. Ballin became one of the best hookers in the NRL and would have played more rep Football if he hadn’t have played in the same era as Cameron Smith. Ballin was given one chance in 2010 when Smith was injured for Game 1 of State of Origin and Ballin didn’t disappoint showing he belonged on that stage, but Smith didn’t miss another Origin so Ballin wasn’t able to add to his one appearance.
In 2015 Manly’s ‘dynasty’ had come to an end and with the club missing the finals for the first time since 2004 coach Geoff Toovey was sacked and new coach Trent Barrett informed Ballin he wasn’t in the clubs future plans despite signing a new deal only a few months earlier. Ballin signed with Wests Tigers but a number of knee injuries forced him to retire after playing just the 3 matches in two seasons.
Isaac De Gois
2006-2017 – 225 NRL Games for Wests Tigers, Cronulla Sharks, Newcastle Knights & Parramatta Eels
Isaac De Gois is a true NRL journeymen changing clubs four times often moving on when one club had deemed him surplus to requirements and another needed a guy just like him. De Gois got through his work without much fan fare but was always appreciated by his peers and coaches.
De Gois moved to Cronulla after being stuck behind Robbie Farah at the Tigers before being told he was being replaced by Corey Hughes at the Sharks. De Gois found a home at Newcastle in 2009 and as the Sharks and Hughes struggled De Gois and Newcastle enjoyed success going to the finals in 2009 & 2011 before again De Gois was tapped on the shoulder as he was’t in the plans of in-coming coach Wayne Bennett.
De Gois returned to the Sharks and took up where he left off leading the Sharks to the finals in 2012 & 2013 whilst Newcastle’s time under Bennett didn’t go to plan. De Gois moved to Parramatta for the finals years of his career before multiple concussions ended his time in the NRL. De Gois also represented Portugal in four ‘Tests’ with his brother a proud moment in his career.
2009-2017 – 111 NRL Games for North Queensland Cowboys – 4 Tests for Papua New Guinea
Ray Thompson has had his career cut short short by chronic knee injuries well before his time, at 27 years old Thompson could have played for many years to come but the nature of his injuries have forced him to make the decision to hang up the boots.
Born in Cairns of Indigenous Australian and Papua New Guinean descent, Thompson was a true ‘North Queenslander’ and joined the Cowboys system after signing on as a 17 year old. He made his debut in 2009 but injuries prevented him from nailing down a NRL spot until 2011 where played 25 matches.
Thompson was ‘in and out’ of the first grade side due to form and injuries for the remainder of his career playing in a number of roles for the side. Thompson represented Papua New Guinea 4 times and played in the 2013 World Cup, he also represented the NRL Indigenous All Stars in 2015.
2010-2017 – 126 NRL Games for Melbourne Storm & North Queensland Cowboys – 3 Tests for Ireland
Rory Kostjasyn is another ‘unhearlded’ player the Melbourne Storm turned into a quality NRL player. Born on the Central Coast of NSW, Kostjasyn came through the Roosters’ system before signing for Melbourne in 2010 where he played in their World Club Challenge winning side. Kostjasyn was named 18th man for the Storm’s Grand Final Winning side in 2012 before signing with North Queensland Cowboys.
Kostjasyn enjoyed more success at the Cowboys winning the Auckland 9’s in 2014 before coming off the bench in the Cowboys first ever Grand Final which they won in 2015. Kostjasyn had become a dependable player and was seen as a real ‘professional’ in the way he went about training, diet and preparing for matches, it was these attributes which attracted the attention of Newcastle coach Nathan Brown.
Brown saw Kostjasyn as the perfect player to come to his struggling side to teach the young players all he knew from being a part of two successful clubs Melbourne and North Queensland. Kostjasyn saw this as a chance to move closer to home and signed, but due to a freak training accident Kostjasyn suffered a throat injury and wasn’t able to play a single match for the Knights. Despite not playing a game his fellow players still attribute improvements in their own games to having Rory around and he has taken up a role in coaching at the club.
2001-2017 – 251 NRL Games for Newcastle Knights & 45* Super League Games for Warrington Wolves – 12 Origins for NSW & 12 Tests for Australia
Although Kurt Gidley left the NRL two years ago it would be criminal to exclude a player of Gidley’s calibre from our list of retiring players. Gidley was the Knight’s last link to their ‘golden era’ having played in their Premiership season in 2001, Gidley then went on to take over the club captaincy from Danny Buderus for 2009 season and led Newcastle for seven seasons, he finished his career second on the Knights list for All time matches and points.
Gidley was seen as the games ‘premier’ utility playing in every position in the backline then the halves and even playing Hooker in his finals seasons at the club. Gidley’s versatility won him numerous rep jumpers playing Tests for Australia including the 2008 World Cup and playing 12 State of Origin Matches, Gidley captained NSW from 2008-2009.
Gidley wanted to finish his career in England like his brother Matthew did so he signed for Warrington Wolves for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. But Gidley will always be remembered as a Knight and he led the club so well through some tough times and was often the lone star of a struggling team. Memories such as kicking a field goal against Brisbane to win the clubs first ever golden point match will stand out as will kicking the sideline conversion after the siren to give the Knights a massive upset win over Melbourne in 2014.
Gidley was a complete professional always the ‘fittest’ in the side and will return to Newcastle to work in fitness, a role with the club has been talked about.
1999-2017 – 75 NRL Games for Wests Tigers & 314 Super League Games for Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, Leeds Rhinos & Hull FC – 33 Tests for Great Britain & England
It would be rude not to include Gareth Ellis on the list of retirees after he achieved so much in a ‘storied career’. It’s incredible to think Ellis debuted for Wakefield all the way back in 1999 and 18 years later he has finally decided to hang up the boots, Ellis played out most of his career in England but he left a lasting impression in Australia especially amongst the Wests Tigers supporters.
Ellis signed with the Tigers for the 2009 season, many fans in Australia had seen very little of Ellis but in the 75 games he played for the Black, Gold & White he not only proved himself good enough for the ‘Toughest Competition’ but he excelled and was one of the key members of the Tigers finals campaigns in 2011 & 2012. Still to this day Ellis is regarded as one of the best ‘Pommies’ to come over and test themselves in the NRL, not a bad endorsement considering the quality of English imports of recent times includes Adrian Morely, James Graham and the Burgess brothers.
But it was in England where Ellis will be remembered most after switching over to Leeds from Wakefield in 2005 he enjoyed four very successful years winning two Super League Titles along with two World Club Challenges before heading off to the NRL. Ellis returned to the Super League in 2013 signing for Hull FC and although another Super League title has eluded Ellis and Hull they’ve won the last two Challenge Cup Finals. Ellis has represented both England & Great Britain 33 times and was always highly regarded by the Australian & New Zealand sides. Ellis was a joy to watch he played the game in great spirit and mixed clever line running with stirring toughness, a real champion on both sides of the world.
2004 – 2017* – 320 NRL Games for Melbourne Storm – 33 Tests for Australia & 22 Origins for Queensland
The future of Cooper Cronk is still no clearer now than what is was when he shocked the Rugby League world when he announced in April this year that 2017 would be his last for the Melbourne Storm, Cronk clearly still has more football left in him but has chosen to move to Sydney to be closer to fiancé Tara Ruston. At the time Cronk said he was un-decided on whether he would play on for a new club in 2018 but as time goes by and Cronk ‘resists’ putting himself on the ‘market’ the Sydney NRL sides have gone about recruiting for next season which has left few sides having the cap space to sign him.
Cronk started his career at Melbourne as a ‘utility’ player filling in where needed but it wasn’t until Storm Halfback Matt Orford left the club after the 2005 season that Cronk found his position in the side as the starting Halfback. Cronk went on to win the Dally M Halfback of the year in 2006 as Melbourne finished Minor Premiers and lost the Grand Final to Brisbane. From there on Cronk established himself as the premier Halfback in the competition and formed part of the famous ‘Big Three’ of the Melbourne Storm alongside Billy Slater and Cameron Smith. Cronk has produced many man of the match performances and conjured up hundreds of try assists, but Cronk’s career highlight has to be his 40 metre match winning field goal, in the 2012 State of Origin decider.
One feels Cronk would like to play another season but is struggling with the thought of facing the club he has given everything to for the last 13 seasons, its not just the club but Coach Craig Bellamy and best mates Cameron Smith and Billy Slater that make the thought of facing up against the Storm unbearable for Cronk. If Cronk were to hang up the boots he will leave the game with nothing left to prove, he was won everything possible with Melbourne and his rep career is just as impressive winning a World Cup with Australia and being an integral part of Queensland’s dominance in State of Origin, he has also won the Dally M Medal in 2013 & 2016.
The NRL community would love to see Cooper Cronk play on in 2018 but if he does decide to call time on his career we say thanks for the memories Cooper you will be missed.