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After 15 Origins for Queensland and 276 games in the NRL, a neck injury has forced Ashley Harrison to call a premature end to his stellar career.
A neck injury suffered against his former club, South Sydney, will on Friday force Gold Coast lock forward Ashley Harrison to bring a premature end to a glittering 15-year career.

The 33-year-old has played just once since suffering a fracture in his neck against the Rabbitohs in Round 9 but after going through another scare in the Round 14 loss to the Storm, has decided to put his family and long-term health ahead of playing in the NRL again.

Ironically, it was after the Titans' thrilling win over the Storm in Round 7 that Harrison decided to announce that he would be retiring at the end of the 2014 season despite having a year still to run on his contract.

He spoke then about the importance of being able to go out on his terms but, as is the case with many elite athletes, the ultimate conclusion has not quite gone according to script.

Having made his debut with the Broncos as an 18-year-old in Round 3, 2000, Harrison went on to play 52 games for Brisbane before having stints at South Sydney (66 games), Sydney Roosters (41) and finishing his career with 117 games for the Titans.

A loyal journeyman who gave his all to each of the four NRL clubs that he played with as well as his state where he represented Queensland on 15 occasions, Harrison finishes his career with 276 games at the highest level and the respect of all those who played with and against him.

Harrison captained the Rabbitohs in Round 17 2004 when a 19-year-old John Sutton made his debut for the club in the centres and despite the side going down heavily to the Broncos, both men scored tries and began a friendship that remains strong to this day.

The pair actually caught up following Origin II in Sydney just last week, where Harrison broke the news that he wouldn't again be taking the field.

"I bumped into him last week after the Origin and I ended up catching up with him and we had a bit of a chat and he let me know then that he was going to pull the pin on it," Sutton told

"I was a little bit devastated for him. He's had such a great career and played in so many of those good Origin teams and to have to go out because of injury is a bit disappointing. He was a little bit disappointed with that but I'm pretty sure he's happy with what he's done and I'm proud of what he's done because he's had a great career."

Attracting Harrison from the all-conquering Broncos for their second year of readmission into the competition was seen as a major coup for the Rabbitohs in 2003 and by Round 7, 2004 – a month before his 23rd birthday – he had captained the most successful club in the competition's history.

He may have only been a part of 17 wins in 66 games at South Sydney but Sutton said he had a calming influence on the young members of the playing group that enabled them to transition into the top grade. 

"He was great for me. When I first started playing in the junior ranks he was captain and I got the chance to play first grade and he really helped me along," said Sutton, with 221 appearances is now the most capped player in South Sydney history.

"He's a champion bloke and made me feel really comfortable and it's a bit sad that he's had to retire because of his injury but he's had a great career and I wish him all the best.

"I just remember that when I got my chance he made me feel real comfortable and the way he spoke to you, he had a real calming influence and it helped me with my nerves playing in first grade back then."

"To be honest, he was there [at South Sydney] for a couple of years and then gone again but since then we've caught up and had a few nights out and had a drink and a laugh together and he's just one of those blokes who is easy to get along with, easy to talk to and makes you feel comfortable."  

Meanwhile in Melbourne, fullback Billy Slater similarly sang Harrison's praises.

"It is obviously sad to hear that he has had to retire due to an injury but you look at the positives of his career and he has played such a long period of time, I think about 14 years," Slater said.
"He has done every club that he has played for proud. He has won a premiership at the Broncos, he has won State of Origin series and he was an integral part of what we have had over the last eight years in Queensland. So he can certainly hold his head up high and be proud of what he has achieved.

"He is a great guy. He is a bit like how he is on the field, he is just of those guys that goes about his business and works really hard for his teammates and that is what he is like off the field. He is a great guy and one that everyone likes to hang around."

- Additional reporting Will Botoulas
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