Old mates Kingston, Hilder face off in Cup decider
While retirement beckons for Penrith's Kevin Kingston and Newcastle's Matt Hilder, the former Cronulla teammates will be looking to extend their season for another week when they play in the NSW Cup grand final this weekend.
With the winner of the NSW Cup set to fight it out for the National Championship against the Intrust Super Cup premiers on October 5, one of these men will be responsible for ending the other's career.
While the pair once battled for a starting berth back in 2005 and 2006 at the Cronulla Sharks, Kingston had nothing but nice words for his opposition captain.
"It's a bit crazy to re-unite, playing against each other this weekend. He's playing really well and he's got his team playing really well as well," Kingston tells NRL.com.
"I feel like we're very similar players – very hard working and very honest. He's a great bloke to have a beer with and everything like that and he's a guy a lot of his teammates respect and... the guy you want to play with."
Kingston, who is set to work in an off-field role with the Panthers in 2015, is happy for the chance to finish up in the NSW Cup grand final considering he is only one week back from a leg fracture suffered a month ago.
"When I got the news the next day [after the injury], I pretty much accepted the fact that it was my last game. That's what makes it so special. Every game's a bonus," Kingston said.
"The NSW Cup coach Garth Brennan really backed me 100 per cent and left the decision with me and I got through on the weekend.
"It's a great feeling... now I get to play in a NSW Cup grand final which is very exciting."
Hilder, who will be locking the scrum at the weekend, appeared just as excited as Kingston and was complimentary of his former teammate's team, labelling the Panthers "the best side this year".
"I suppose it doesn't matter though, we have proven we're capable of knocking them off the way we have been playing the past few months so I think it is going to be a matter of who executes better on the day and holds the ball and all that boring stuff," Hilder told NRL.com.
"I'm just looking forward to going out there, playing our best and try and get the win for our team. They are all a bunch of good blokes and they deserve it this year."
With the Panthers coming into the grand final on the back of a seven-game winning streak, they will be met by a Newcastle side who have won their past nine – an even bigger effort considering they lost six straight midway through the season.
"We just had a bit of a heart-to-heart with one another and everyone wanted the same thing and to do something in the competition. They were sick of making up the numbers," Hilder said.
"We were talking about it after the preliminary final [what we have achieved]. It is hard to do in any grade, let alone senior footy and the boys are certainly doing well."
As for retirement, Hilder believes his time is up. With his plumbing studies and work in full swing, family time with his three kids has become more important than footy.
"Earlier this season I wanted to play again but after speaking to a few doctors and just knowing within myself it probably wasn't the right decision, I thought I'd go with my heart," Hilder said.
"I took the doctor's advice pretty seriously. He didn't say I couldn't play but he did say it probably wasn't worth it. I wouldn't see my family as much as I would like [either] and it was just time to pull the pin, mate."
The NSWRL Grand Final Day, featuring VB NSW Cup, Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield deciders, is on Sunday September 28 at Allianz Stadium. Tickets are now on sale, with entry just $10 for adults, $5 for children and $30 for families.