Comeback kings make their mark on Nines
They didn't quite live up to Freddy's famous 70-metre intercept, but this year's batch of retired legends still whisked us down memory lane on the first day of the NRL Auckland Nines at Eden Park.
Champion Canberran Ken Nagas was the most iconic of the lot, and whilst the 41-year-old didn't quite show us his clean pair of heels as often as he did in the nation's capital, seeing the 1994 premiership winner was one of many highlights for the 43,054-strong crowd.
The former NSW Origin winger came off the bench late in the first half of the Raiders' first game against the Wests Tigers, running the ball from dummy half with his first touch.
"It was a good hit-out, but I'm a bit tired now. I pulled up okay. I'm a bit surprised actually," an out-of-breath Nagas told reporters post-game.
"But I'm hoping to pull back now. Yeah, I'm going to pull right back. We'll see what [Dean Pay] has to say."
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Nagas's surprise comeback for this year's instalment of the Nines was a year in the making, when Raiders management proposed the idea of the former crowd favourite pulling on the old lime jumper one more time.
"It was over 12 months we thought about it when the idea was floated with John Bonasera, our manager, at the end of last year's Nines. I had a bit of time to think about it," he said.
"It was just about the opportunity have a crack and have a bit of time also. It wasn't about trying to make a point of how old people are. It was just about having a good time."
Former Penrith skipper Kevin Kingston was just three months into retirement when he answered an SOS from coach Ivan Cleary to fill-in for his depleted side.
The Panthers had no wins and just two tries to show for their day's work, and Kingston couldn't help but lay down the law one final time for the club's school of kids.
"It's very disappointing. All the boys will probably say the same thing," he said to NRL.com.
"The effort's a bit down, and we're starting the games pretty slow, other than the first game when we scored a try first up. We're dipping at times. Ivan would say, even though we've got a young team, that we expect more than that."
Former Rabbitoh Matt King was the clear standout of the three. One year after hanging up the boots, the 34-year-old once again laced them up and nabbed a try in South Sydney's upset win over North Queensland late in the day.
"I wasn't actually meant to play this game but Kyle Turner hurt his neck in the last game so I got a start," he said.
"It was pretty cool, very cool actually. Footy's been wonderful to me and I'm having another great weekend because of it."
By the end of the day, King's Rabbitohs were one of five teams to remain undefeated. But despite the early success, the former NSW centre was quick to rule out any sort of genuine comeback for the season proper.
"Twenty-minutes games, one weekend a year I reckon I can handle," he said. "But if I had to play 80-minute games for 26 weeks straight it'd be a different kettle of fish I reckon. Definitely no comeback plans for me."