Going out with a bang: Ten NRL players who finished on top
Every player eventually retires from the game, but not every player gets to go at the time of their own choosing, and only the very few get to go out with a nice shiny new premiership ring after a Grand Final victory lap. Here are 10 players who managed to go out with a bang during the NRL era, and some may come as a surprise.
Craig Smith (1999)
Melbourne’s winger Craig Smith only ever played 22 games in the top grade, and was a handy goal-kicker, but he crossed for just four tries. His last try in the NRL was a memorable one though, and came in the dying moments of the 1999 decider when he was awarded a penalty try that sealed the match for his side after a high shot from the Dragons’ Jamie Ainscough.
Glen Lazarus (1999)
Lazarus was one of the best front rowers in the business back in the 1990s, as evidenced by his 21 Tests for Australia and 19 Origin appearances for NSW. His timing in changing clubs was always impeccable, and he’s the only player in the game to be involved in the first premierships for the three clubs he played for, firstly with Canberra in 1989, then Brisbane in 1992, and finally Melbourne in his final game in 1999.
Brett Mullins (2002)
There were no more exciting ball-runners in the game than the Raiders’ Brett Mullins during the 1990s, and after leaving Canberra for a season in the UK in 2001 he certainly made the right move in joining the Roosters when he returned to Australia the following year.
He not only retired from the game with a premiership, but also emulated his father and fellow winger Bill Mullins who won a title with the Roosters in 1975.
Simon Bonetti (2002)
There was nothing flashy about Bonetti’s game, but he was a very good dummy-half, and he always led the way in defence. He played finals in every one of his six seasons with the Roosters before winning a title in the 2002 Grand Final victory over the Warriors, and then retired at just 25 years of age to return to the family farm at Griffith.
Shane Webcke (2006)
Webcke is arguably the Broncos’ greatest-ever forward and he played over 250 games for the club across 12 seasons, along with 27 Tests for Australia and 26 Origins for Queensland. He already had three premierships under his belt in early 2006 when he announced that it would be his last season, and he went out a winner later that year in the Broncos’ 15-8 win over the Storm.
Luke O’Donnell (2013)
Luke O’Donnell had a chequered career on the field and often struggled off it, but at his peak was a tough and skilful forward who loved taking the fight to the opposition. Often sanctioned for his overly physical style of play, he was a throwback to the way the game was played in the 1980s, but was still good enough to play 11 Tests for Australia and five Oigins for NSW.
One of the best career decisions he ever made was to join the Roosters in 2013 and pick up a premiership playing off the bench in their 26-18 defeat of Manly.
Lote Tuqiri (2014)
The big winger must have thought he’d achieved it all by the time he switched codes to join the NSW Waratahs in 2003, with a premiership with the Broncos, six Origin starts for the Maroons and Test jumpers for both Australia and Fiji.
He then had a stellar union career over the next seven years before finding his way back to the NRL via the Tigers in 2010 and was then signed by Souths in 2014, becoming an integral part of their return to the winner’s circle after an absence of over 40 years.
Michael Ennis (2016)
Ennis moved through a few clubs in his 14-year career before finally earning himself a premiership ring with Cronulla in 2016.
There was no more annoying player in the game as he just loved to get under the opposition’s skin, and he was a key component in the Sharks’ no-nonsense forward pack that took them to the title. When he retired following Cronulla’s first premiership win in 2016 it was a case of “the NRL’s loss and sports broadcasting’s gain”.
Cooper Cronk (2019)
The Roosters’ Nick Politis certainly knew what he was doing when he lured iconic Storm half Cooper Cronk to his club in 2018. By then, Cronk had won four Grand Finals with Melbourne, a Clive Churchill Medal, two Dally M Medals, a Golden Boot award, and had played 38 Tests for Australia and 22 Origins for Queensland.
It turned out to be the coup of the century, and paid immediate dividends, as the Tricolours and Cronk won premierships in both 2018 and 2019.
Cameron Smith (2020)
Surely no one in the game will ever emulate the feats of Cameron Smith, whether on an NRL, Storm, Australia or Queensland level. His many achievements are well-known and too numerous to mention here, and it was fitting that his final game saw him win yet another premiership.
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Can you think of any other players who retired after winning a premiership in the NRL era?
I wonder who’ll be the next player to join this illustrious list?