In his quieter moments, Jason Ryles readily admits he has dared to dream.
Drawing the curtain at the end of the year on a career that began for St George Illawarra back in 2000 and has since taken him to Catalans, Sydney Roosters and now Melbourne, his has been one of near misses and wasted opportunity.
There were, of course, the multiple preliminary finals with the Dragons when they should have gone much further, a grand final loss with the Roosters in 2010 and of course last year when the Storm hoisted the trophy but Ryles was sidelined with a leg injury.
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So it’s only natural that as he enters his final month, the veteran prop has pondered the possibility of a fairytale farewell.
“Obviously it crosses the mind,” the 34-year-old told NRL.com as he prepared for Friday night’s blockbuster against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium.
“I’ve had some close calls over the years. We made a few prelims there at the Dragons where we were pretty short-price favourites to win the comp and for the Roosters we made the GF in 2010. Last year I almost played in one but was part of a winning team, so I’ve experienced a lot of mixed emotions of winning, losing and not quite making it.
“But it is what it is. It would be nice to go out with the win but that’s still a long way away so it’s just about enjoying it as much as I can and preparing as well as I can. I just want to have no regrets this last month.”
While Ryles was typically upbeat last year when told his leg injury wouldn’t quite heal in time to play in the grand final, it proved a particularly bitter pill to swallow – which is why he recognises the unique opportunity that presents itself over the coming month.
“Hopefully I stay fit and the team can play some good football,” he said.
“Unfortunately injuries are part and parcel of footy and I got one at the worst possible time last year but everything happens for a reason. I’m still not sure why that one happened! But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I was certainly happy for the boys.
“To be honest, [missing the premiership win] didn’t hit home for a couple of weeks afterwards when all the dust settled because you get caught up in the moment, you’re trying to support the team as much as you can even thought you’re not actually playing. It was certainly disappointing but worse things can happen to you in your life than missing a few games of footy. I’m still glad to say that I was part of it.”
Win or lose, however, Ryles has no regrets about these final two years of his career after originally contemplating retirement when told at the end of the 2011 that he was no longer part of the Roosters’ plans moving forward.
Nor has he wrapped himself in a bubble, pretending for the time being that his NRL days will live on forever.
“I’m well aware of it – I know it’s coming to an end – because obviously you’ve got to plan your life in and around it to get sorted for life after footy, so I’m aware of it but very comfortable with it,” he said. “I’m glad I’ve been able to finish here at the Storm because I feel like it has rounded everything off.
“I actually feel like I’ve had two careers. I had one at the Dragons and then went overseas and had a break, got away from everything, got a bit of perspective on everything then came back and played for the Roosters and the Storm.
“But it’s something I would have done even if I didn’t play in the NRL. It’s not something I ever saw as a chore or a job, it’s something I have genuinely liked doing and I feel very fortunate to have had that chance.
“So I’m looking forward to the last few games of my career. I’m glad I’ll be able to do that down here at the Melbourne Storm with so many good players and such a good coach. I’m feeling pretty good about it all, but hey, it’s not over yet and hopefully I’ve still got a few more games to go.”
First on the agenda for Ryles as he looks for the ultimate farewell is the Rabbitohs. Melbourne boast a remarkable record against the foundation club, with 19 wins from 22 encounters and have already beaten them twice this season, but the ageing front-rower knows the challenge will be very different this time around.
“It’s a pretty daunting task,” he said. “It’s not a matter of stopping any one player like Inglis or Luke or Reynolds, it’s a case of limiting their impact and that’s what we’ve got to do this week. You throw in all the Burgess boys and they’ve got a big strong forward pack.
“Obviously we’ve beaten them this year but at the end of the day it means nothing now because it’s a whole new competition and everyone has been waiting for these next four weeks. It feels like a long time ago that we played them so they’ll be a different team and primed and ready to go.”