Thousands of games worth of NRL experience is heading out the door in 2022 with several big names bringing down the curtain on their careers.
Sharks prop Andrew Fifita is the latest veteran calling it a day.
Andrew Fifita has closed the curtain on his 13-year NRL career after the Cronulla veteran opted against going around next season at a rival club.
Fifita confirmed on Tuesday that he would not be playing on, after previously announcing he would be leaving the Sharks at the end of 2022.
“I have made the hard decision to announce my retirement from the NRL. I am extremely grateful for all the milestones and memories I have made at the Sharks.” Fifita told the club website. “I can retire knowing I’ve fulfilled everything I had dreamed of achieving.”
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It prompted the former NSW State of Origin and Kangaroos Test prop to decide against moving elsewhere, after interest was shown from both Manly and Canterbury.
Best remembered for his superb 2016 season that netted the Sharks their maiden premiership, Fifita was the game’s most damaging forward when at his best.
He was instrumental in NSW ending their Origin drought in 2014, and he then helped lead the Pacific rugby league revolution when he defected to Tonga in 2017.
In total, Fifita played 251 NRL games at Wests Tigers and the Sharks, while also becoming a member of Cronulla’s all-time team in the 50-year celebrations in 2016.
His body ultimately caught up with him, pushing aside being placed into an induced coma last season with a fractured larynx to be a solid forward for Cronulla this year.
Off contract at the end of 2022, Fifita made the call in August to leave the club and had considered linking up with brother David in England before Tuesday’s decision.
Broncos prop Ryan James was one of several NRL stars honoured on grand final day at Accor Stadium.
James, who played for Brisbane and Canberra, as well as a two-game loan cameo at Canterbury, over the past two seasona after a decade at the Titans ended with back-to-back knee reconstructions. He tallied 168 games since his debut way back in 2010.
He was part of a lengthy list of retiring and departing men’s and women’s players who the NRL paid tribute to on grand final day before the Panthers vs Eels clash.
Sharks prop Aiden Tolman, who bowed out in the finals, and fellow member of the 300 Club, former Roosters centre Josh Morris, who retired after last season, headlined the list of grand final day legends being farewelled.
Broncos trio Tyrone Roberts, Chelsea Baker and Meg Ward, former Titans and Warriors playmaker Ash Taylor, Wests Tigers duo Russell Packer and James Roberts, Dragons pair Josh McGuire and Kody House and Gold Coast winger Corey Thompson.
Additional players to be acknowledged through the tribute are Paul Vaughan (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), David Mead and Ben Te’o (Brisbane Broncos), Benji Marshall (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Corey Norman (St George Illawarra Dragons), Joseph Leilua (Wests Tigers), Will Chambers (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks) and Kevin Proctor (Gold Coast Titans).
Thompson recently posted a message on Instagram to say thanks to the Gold Coast and his previous clubs, Canterbury, Wests Tigers and Widnes.
Wests Tigers centre James Roberts announced in Round 25 he would not go around again in 2023. The former NSW Origin representative played 166 NRL games since making his debut in 2011, including stints at Souths, Penrith, Gold Coast and Brisbane, scoring 77 tries along the way.
James Tamou played his final match for the Wests Tigers in Round 25 against Canberra but is set to seal a deal with the Cowboys for a swansong at his former club.
Some players who don’t have contracts for next year they could be forced into retirement unless they can jag a deal for 2023 in the coming months.
Club by club, here are the players who are on the way out of the NRL or facing uncertain futures heading into the off-season.
Veteran duo Ryan James and Tyrone Roberts, who was called up for a couple of games this season, have retired while Albert Kelly’s future is uncertain and he is probably going to be on a Queensland Cup deal again next year. Papua New Guinean stalwart David Mead announced his immediate retirement in July after 171 NRL games for Broncos and Titans – scoring 75 tries since making his debut in 2009 – as well as 58 Super League games for Catalans Dragons scoring 29 tries.
Journeyman half Sam Williams hung up his boots in June after 107 NRL games across three stints at the Raiders and a four-game sojourn with St George Illawarra in 2014. He also spent a couple of seasons with Catalans and Wakefield Trinity.
Paul Vaughan is off the UK after this season to play for Warrington while fullback Matt Dufty left for the Wolves in July but is still relatively young at 26 and could return to the NRL down the track.
Wade Graham is off contract and keen to go around again. Graham is likely to get another deal at the Sharks but Andrew Fifita’s career is over after he briefly considered playing elsewhere next season. Fellow front-rower Aiden Tolman has called time on his career.
Veteran utilty Will Smith joined Hull mid-season while Kevin Proctor is struggling to find a Super League deal after being sacked in August for vaping in the sheds while he was an unused squad member for a game in July. Utility back Corey Thompson has brought down the curtain on his career.
Veteran winger Jorge Taufua headed to the UK in July to play for Wakefield but then suffered a season-ending broken arm. Martin Taupau is without a deal for 2023 after a mooted switch to the Eels mid-season fell through. Ethan Bullemor is contracted for next season but the 22-year-old has reportedly been considering a premature retirement to concentrate on his professional career in the financial sector. Fellow forwards Andrew Davey, Kurt De Luis and Morgan Boyle are free agents without a contract for next season.
Cooper Johns is off contract but should be able to get a new deal in the NRL.
Veteran forward Sauaso Sue’s journeyman career may come to an end after stints at the Bulldogs and the Wests Tigers.
Ash Taylor was forced to call it a day mid-season due to a hip injury. Fellow playmaker Chanel Harris-Tavita’s future is unclear after he opted to take a sabbatical next year. Shaun Johnson is under contract for next year but veteran forward Dunamis Lui is unsigned.
Lachlan Burr hung up his boots at the start of the year due to a chronic hip problem. Hooker Jake Granville has been retained for 2023.
Tom Opacic is joining Hull KR next year on a two-year deal but the 27-year-old centre may return to the NRL before his career ends.
Matt Eisenhuth is unsigned but should end up with a one-year contract at the least at the Panthers or another landing spot.
St George Illawarra
Aaron Woods will be remaining at the Dragons after activating a contract extension for next season. Josh McGuire will finish his career in the Super League with Warrington after 14 seasons in the NRL.
Josh Mansour has yet to announce his intentions but the former NSW and Australian winger is another former international unlikely to be in the NRL next year. The 32-year-old former Panther has played 174 matches in the NRL but has only been used five times this year at the Rabbitohs.
Siosiua Taukeiaho is heading to the UK to finish his career at Catalans after a decade in the NRL, including two premiership wins.
James Tamou is set to shelve retirement plans to go around again with the Cowboys. James Roberts has called time on his career after injuries have hampered his form over the past couple of seasons.
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