Mini farewell one to remember
In many respects the chaotic, against-the-odds golden-point victory by the Titans on Sunday was the fitting way for Mark Minichiello to farewell the NRL.
A whole-hearted performer who has been maligned for his tendency of coming up with an error throughout his 13-year career, Minichiello defied the doubters and the imposing shadow cast by his older brother to register 259 games in the toughest rugby league arena of all.
His 173rd and final game for the Gold Coast Titans was all one-way traffic for the first 30 minutes but despite a first grade squad sitting on the sideline either injured or suspended, the Titans somehow found a way to claw their way back from 18-0 down against the finals-bound Bulldogs and give their home fans something to cheer about for the first time since April 11 with a 19-18 victory.
Minichiello will add to his resumé with a two-year stint with Warrington in the English Super League from 2015 but today will be all about the chapter he closed with a man-of-the-match display, a try and a last gasp win that the most capped Titan says is the greatest in the club's history.
"For me, that's probably the best win we've had. Just because it was the last game for me and departing like that is a nice feeling," said Minichiello, who was the sole remaining foundation Titan to take the field after Luke Bailey's withdrawal with a neck injury.
"I'll sit down and have a beer and reflect on that win and I'm sure it will be one of the best wins that I've been involved in.
"It's hard to put into words. It was a big effort to come back from 18-0 down and very proud of the boys tonight. They dug really deep to give us departing players a great victory and something that I'll always remember.
"It was a tough year but to end the year like that, I'll never forget it."
From the opening exchanges it was evident that with the honour of captaining the team in his final game that Minichiello was going to take on the Bulldogs in the same manner he had played throughout his career.
His runs were full of vigour, his try in the 72nd minute brought his team to within reach and then when the scores were locked at 18-all, the 32-year-old deferred to the team's needs rather than taking a ceremonial shot at goal that could have won his team the game in regulation time.
"I was going to take it but then I thought 'Morts' (Daniel Mortimer) will just put it over and we'll win the game. When he hit the post I thought, Bugger, I should have taken it!," Minichiello said.
Perhaps because of all the Titans have had to endure over the past 18 weeks the rugby league gods found a way to push Trent Hodkinson's field goal attempt wide of the posts after the game went to extra time and then William Zillman kicked the first and most unconvincing field goal of his career.
"It didn't look real smooth off the boot but it got over and that's all it needs to do," Minichiello said.
"It was actually great because he's been my roommate for probably five or six years so for him to kick it and win the game was good."
You only need to consider how the likes of Luke Bailey, Ashley Harrison, Brent Tate, John Morris and Braith Anasta have had to farewell the game from the sidelines this season to know that a fitting finale is a rare occasion for the game's great soldiers.
The Raiders somehow found a way to send Brett White out a winner on Saturday and even though his team had been blow off the park in the opening exchanges, Minichiello never allowed himself to think that his NRL career was destined to finish with a heavy defeat.
"I did [believe we could win]. I had faith in the players that were taking the field and we just talked about digging deep for each other and we come out in the second half and we did that," said Minichiello. "Everyone who took the field tonight played their heart out and it's a very special day.
"We were rolling over the top of them there and we just needed some points to get a bit closer and once we got that try everyone started believing that we could win.
"I mentioned before the game to the team that we were playing for 'Bails' and 'Harro' and all the departing players who weren't on the field and I think everyone ran out knowing that we were playing not only for ourselves but those guys who couldn't take part."
Elder brother Anthony may yet get the fairytale finish all players crave but nothing can take away from the spirit in which Mark has played his football at the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Titans since his NRL debut in 2002.
"Just the way I've carried myself I think," said Minichiello when asked what he considered his proudest achievement.
"The rapport I've got with the team and the players... I think I'm a pretty respected player in the game," he added, the emotion of the occasion finally starting to hit home.