Sterling Gold: Time almost up for NRL's retiring greats
Not surprisingly the loudest noise at Melbourne's AAMI Park last Friday night was the jeer that went up from Storm fans when the St George Illawarra team took the field.
Unfortunately this took place half an hour before kick-off when the visitors made their way out on to the playing surface to begin their warm-up.
I must admit I hate teams going through their pre-game routine out in front of the crowd. I find it totally anti-climactic and a complete erosion of the anticipation that should exist before every contest.
I am sure that most supporters would much rather see teams for the first time as they burst from the tunnel and into position for the beginning of hostilities.
I know as a player that's what I definitely preferred, with it being a mixture of a high adrenalin rush and a release of pressure with the wait finally being over.
As one of the 24,000 fans in attendance for the much-awaited clash between the reigning premiers and current competition leaders, it seemed to me that when the teams finally made their way out it was like a "take 2" for the crowd who had only just seen them for an extended period and now just wanted them to get on with it.
I understand that we have moved on from a quick stretch in the sheds, but I would love clubs to warm up away from the main surface at those grounds that have alternative facilities. I don't believe you need a huge area to run through drills or even a set of posts to know if you are striking the ball well as a kicker.
This is not going to happen but I know it would be well received by those who matter most – the paying customer.
The warm-up these days is a lengthy and physical affair and has taken its toll on an inordinate number of players who have failed to survive the entree before the main meal.
The latest are Melbourne's Matt Duffie, who missed the big clash against Brisbane after hurting his sternum, and Souths' try-scoring whiz Nathan Merritt who last Friday was a late withdrawal against North Queensland after straining his thigh.
Obviously it is preferable to lose a player before kick-off than during a match, but the conspiracy theorist in me wonders whether mind and body knows that a warm-up is not the real thing and the player is then more susceptible to doing some damage.
Maybe it's more a case of wondering how today's players aren't already buggered before kick-off. I know I get tired just watching them!
Preparation certainly has advanced over the years but this would be only one area that those who have decided to hang up their boots at season's end have seen change during lengthy careers.
Last week Canberra's inspirational skipper Alan Tongue announced that this would be his last after 12 seasons in the top grade.
Whilst Darren Lockyer is the highest profile of our retirees there are a large number of players who have also been particularly influential over a long period of time.
Both Tongue and the Titans' Preston Campbell have not only been tremendous competitors but also underlined the fact that you don't have to be 100 kilos and six-foot to play our game.
I always felt that apart from being a champion player, the great Allan Langer had such a wonderful impact as an example to mums and dads who were worried about their children taking up such a physical game in which they would face much bigger opponents.
With all due respect, Tongue isn't the most skilful of players but carved out a wonderful career on the back of an unbending work ethic and a huge heart.
His 87-kilo frame was probably more suited to being in the backline but he played most positions in the forward pack and has played his last year darting out of the dummy-half area.
In a perfect illustration as to the esteem in which he is held, Alan is in the exalted company of the likes of Mal Meninga, Ricky Stuart and Laurie Daley as those chosen to captain the Canberra Raiders.
Preston Campbell was a more naturally gifted player but played with the same degree of desire.
He has come a long way from playing on the wing for the Gold Coast Chargers and the Sharks where he was often hidden in the defensive line.
That was a wasted pursuit because his bravery and technical expertise in defence was always of the highest order. This made a move into the halves a no-brainer and it was as a number seven that he took out the game's best player award in 2001.
This year as usual we have seen touches of his great evasion and unpredictability.
Obviously one of the greatest legacies he will leave is his influence on the indigenous community and how many of its young men have been inspired to take up the game. The annual All Stars match is a fitting tribute to the will-o-the-wisp, who like Tongue will finish with well over 200 first grade games under his belt.
As too will the Bulldogs' Michael Hodgson, who before joining Canterbury spent time at Parramatta, Canberra and on the Gold Coast.
This moving around has resulted in the kind of sacrifice that is sometimes needed to make it at the highest level.
In his time at both the Titans and Bulldogs, Michael has lived away from his wife and two daughters who stayed on in Canberra in the family home. His wife Sally runs a thriving beauty salon in the national capital and to continue as a professional rugby league player Michael has racked up the kilometres during the week so as to spend time with the family as well as meet his training and club commitments.
Over the last two years he has actually boarded with captain Andrew Ryan, a close mate since playing Australian schoolboys and at Parramatta together.
It puts into perspective the petty complaints that some of our younger players voice as to their lot in the NRL.
Michael Hodgson is one of those hard-working, selfless, tough nut forwards that every club needs and every teammate loves being alongside. He was the Canterbury clubman of the year in 2010.
Playing their final season along with Lockyer, Tongue, Campbell and Hodgson are Shane Tronc, Andrew Ryan, Mark Gasnier, Chris Hicks, Chris Walker, Carl Webb, Paul Whatuira, Adam MacDougall, Frank Puletua, Shane Elford, Luke Stuart, Mark Riddell, Brad Meyers, Todd Payten and Jason Cayless.