Retiring Manly prop Jason King says it hasn’t yet sunk in that he’s no longer an NRL player – but he feels honoured to have been able to pull on the maroon and white jersey of Manly even once.
He did a little bit better than that – the 33-year-old played his 238th and final game for the club (which included his first 22 for the Northern Eagles) in the 18-17 semi-final loss to Canterbury on Saturday night.
“It hasn’t [sunk in yet], I’m just a bit numb at the moment,” King said in the sheds after the game.
“I wasn’t really thinking along those lines, I was trying just to think about the game itself. It’ll sink in over the next couple of weeks. It’s been a fantastic journey with plenty of great memories to cherish. It’s been a real honour to be a part of this great game.”
The local junior said it was “beyond my wildest dreams” to pull on the Manly jersey.
“And I’ve managed to do it quite a few times!” he laughed.
“It’s something I’m extremely proud of and something I’ll hold very close. It’s been a great journey with so many great people along the way. It’s been an honour to play for Manly and an honour to be an NRL player.”
He said the undoubted on-field highlights were the grand finals – he played in the 2007 loss the Melbourne and the 2008 win over the same club, but missed the 2011 win over the Warriors and last year’s loss to the Roosters, both due to injury.
“Definitely the grand finals – the ones we won a bit better than the ones we lost! Football-wise that’s probably number one but just the great people I’ve met along the way and the great mates I’ll have for a lifetime,” he said.
Also the veteran of two State of Origin matches for NSW, King said it was also personally a great honour to represent the people of NSW.
King said he had no doubt he was leaving the club in good hands, with a great young crop of forwards making huge strides in 2014 after senior men George Rose, Brent Kite, Richie Fa’aoso and Joe Galuvao all moved clubs or retired after the 2013 decider.
“It’s a real positive for the club, the next crop of forwards are coming through, they’ve got that taste and their confidence is building every time they play,” he said, nominating Jesse Sene-Lefao, Dunamis Lui, James Hasson and Josh Starling as the men to lead the pack into the future.
“They’re all stepping up to the plate. A few senior guys are showing the way and they’ve grabbed their opportunity. They’re certainly not letting anybody down. I’ll be an interested spectator next year and full of confidence that the guys wearing the jersey will be able to do the job for this club,” King said.
“It’s very pleasing as a former player now but also as a supporter of the club that there’s plenty of young forwards coming through that are ready to rip and tear.”
Looking to his post-football career, King reiterated what he has been saying publicly for some time, which is that he is looking forward to completing his law studies and to the birth of his second child – due sometime around grand final day.
“My wife’s due very soon [so we’ll take] a bit of family time over the next couple of months, I’m very excited about the arrival of our second child. I’ve got a bit of study to do – I’ve been at university for long enough, it’s time to finally put an end to it!”
King said he’d like to combine his legal qualifications with his rugby league background but that is still some way off.
“It’s all very exciting; it won’t sink in for a couple of months.
“When the guys go back to pre-season training and I’m not an NRL player, that’s when I think it’s really going to sink in. After a long season, your body’s a bit busted. Especially when you’re my age, it’s time for a break.
“It won’t sink in until the guys go back into it and the hype starts next year about getting into a new season and it will really hit home that I’m no longer an NRL player. At the same time it’s exciting, I’m ready for the next chapter.
“It’ll be tough [as a spectator] but the boys will have my support. I’m a life member of the club, I’ll be at every game at Brookvale there and cheering as loud as everybody else.
“I’ve been thrilled with the opportunities I’ve had. It’s going to be tough but I’ve had such a great time being involved in the sport of rugby league, it’ll be tough hanging up the playing boots but I’d love to stay involved in the game.”