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IN the aftermath to Manly’s cakewalk at Parramatta last week, Brent Kite took a moment to stand beside himself.
On the surface, there was nothing too unusual about what was unfolding in front of him.
Like all good choirboys, Daly Cherry-Evans was still flawless in his rendition of the team song; Brett Stewart was still celebrating his millionth try-scoring feat; and Geoff Toovey was still loosely throwing expletives around like he was Narrabeen’s answer to 50 Cent.
Throughout eight years on the northern beaches, there had been plenty of moments like this. After all, Kite’s Sea Eagles have won almost two-thirds of their games since his arrival in 2005, including two premierships.
But this victory song had a different tune. For the first time, this one had the inevitable inclusion of a key change – or a sea change, rather – signifying Kite’s time at the club was nearing an end.
“Just in the sheds there, it dawned on me,” a nostalgic Kite said post-match. “There are five games to go and I’ve purposely tried to keep a lid on the emotions knowing there is going to be all these ‘lasts’ coming up.”
These lasts may not reach the extent of Darren Lockyer’s final-game-in-Sydney-on-a-Friday-night-below-20-degrees-in-the-club’s-alternate-jersey, but Kite’s still wistful about the club he’s played 211 games for during the past nine NRL seasons.
“I’ve seen it happen with all the other guys,” he says. “Last game here, last game against that opposition, last game at ‘Brookie’... it can all be pretty emotional. I’ve just tried to keep a lid on it because it could become draining.
“Even telling the guys when I was moving on, they all expected me to have a bit of a tear in the eye because I’m the emotional one.
“There’ll be a time for tears, I’m not hiding that fact. It’ll be sad to go. The guys will go on to have continued success, but for me, it’s one last crack and I reckon we’ve got it in us.”
Back in April, Kite signed a lucrative two-year deal with the Panthers, a surprise move given his standing as one of the club’s elder statesmen.
Against the Warriors at Gosford on Sunday, he’ll jump above Manly legend Bob Fulton as the 10th most-capped Sea Eagle with 214 games (281 games overall).
“It’s one of the only stats I’ll beat ‘Bozo’ in,” Kite laughs.
And despite believing he was going to finish his career in a maroon and white jersey, Kite says that he feels no bitterness towards the club for letting him go.
“It’s just a case of no cash left, to put it bluntly,” Kite says. “It’s sad to go, but there was a good, generous offer from Penrith and not much of an offer from Manly. I’ve always said the club has done good in being able to hold this squad together, but there are also some good mates that have come and gone.
“Guys like Matt Orford I’ve had success with. We’ve had to lose one or two a year, and you have to do that to keep the nucleus together. Hopefully the guys can have continued success but my number’s up this year and it’s time to push on.”
While others have been critical of the salary cap punishing successful teams, Kite remains a strong advocate of what has been a crucial component to producing an even competition.
“I’ve been on record plenty of times saying I’m a fan of the [salary] cap,” he says. “It’s good to see more money pumped into it this year. That’s all we’ve ever been on about. Players aren’t greedy. There are a lot of guys on not a lot of money.
“Yes, there are superstars obviously on big cash, but the cap has done a very good job in keeping the comp fair. So long as the players continue to get their fair share, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s just the nature of the beast, but it’s a pretty good beast.”
The last Manly stalwart forced from the north shore was club legend Steve Menzies, who enjoyed a fairytale premiership victory in 2008. Kite rejected the idea that winning a premiership this year would be a miracle ending for him, instead declaring that the Sea Eagles are genuine contenders to win their third Grand Final in six years.
“It’s a very realistic goal for me,” Kite says. “‘Fairytale’ makes it feel unrealistic, or unreachable, that you need the stars to align for you.
“But we’ve got a squad here to do it. We’ve just to keep improving.
“I’ve been around a couple of successful teams to do it and this one’s got the same potential. We’ve just got to see how these next five weeks go, how we build up to the finals and improve over that period.”