Retiring Ennis looking forward to family time
Cronulla Sharks hooker Michael Ennis has announced that he will retire at the end of the 2016 season, bringing to a close a decorated career that has seen him play 263 games for five separate clubs.
Ennis broke the news to his teammates at lunch on Tuesday afternoon, and while they were shocked to hear that he wouldn't play on in 2017, they were there in droves to support him during what would have been a difficult announcement.
The 32-year-old started his rugby league career at the Newcastle Knights, where he played 20 games in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, earning his debut off the bench against the Wests Tigers in Round 20.
From there he moved to the St George Illawarra Dragons, where he played 24 matches in 2005, culminating in a loss in the preliminary final against the Tigers.
Ennis spent the next three seasons at the Brisbane Broncos where he played 42 matches before moving to the Bulldogs.
His time with the blue and whites was special, with Ennis tallying 136 games at the Dogs, including captaining his side in the 2012 grand final loss to the Melbourne Storm.
More recently, Ennis has spent the past two seasons at the Sharks where he has arguably reached the peak of his powers, helping guide his side to a club-record 15 straight wins this year.
Flanked by his wife and four young children as he entered the Sharks Leagues Club on Tuesday, Ennis told the media that after dedicating his life to rugby league, it was time to focus on his family.
"It’s time to be a dad, it's time to go and spend some time with my family," Ennis said.
"I love the game, I think I'll always love the game. I love my relationships with my teammates and the people that run the football clubs.
"But it's time to be honest and be open and that was today. While I still think I've got a really good 10 or 12 weeks ahead of me, I can tip all my energy into that. But that's it."
Ennis described his career as "a hell of a journey" that has had "plenty of ups and downs along the way" but was content with the timing to announce his retirement despite having an option in his contract to play on in 2017.
The eight-time NSW Blues hooker said he couldn't look his teammates in the eye next year knowing that he was playing on for the wrong reasons, and is committed to putting all his energy into the Sharks' tilt for a maiden premiership.
It would be a fitting end to a career that has been robbed of premiership glory on several occasions. In 2006, Ennis tore his ACL and had to watch on as the Broncos tasted success on grand final night.
It was an equally painful end to his 2014 season, with Ennis missing the grand final after sustaining a foot injury in the preliminary final. The scenes of him sitting on the sidelines in his Bulldogs jersey and crutches will not be forgotten any time soon.
While a premiership would be the ultimate farewell, it's not something that is driving him as he prepares to say goodbye to the game that he loves.
Instead, Ennis wants to leave ANZ Stadium – should the Sharks be there on grand final day – knowing that he did everything he could for his club on and off the field.
"I'll drive out of that ground knowing I always competed as hard as I could for my teammates," he said.
"That's one thing that I've always tried to base my game around. It might not always be pretty, and it might not always be the flashiest, but I try to give everything I can for the guys that I play with.
"A lot of my game has been built on competing, competing and competing hard for a result.
"Those things are kick chase, line speed, kick pressure, all the little things that take a lot to do, and to be able to commit to that for another 26 weeks next year is something I don't think I can fulfil, honestly.
"I don't have the drive to do that anymore.
"I look forward to turning up and sitting in the grandstand and watching the Valentines (Valentine Holmes) and the Jacks (Jack Bird) and the Benny Barbas do their things next year, but I just don't want to let people down by being out there for the wrong reasons."
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan praised Ennis for helping turn the club's culture around after a few difficult years, and completely understood why the beloved 'niggler' had decided to hang up the boots at this point of his career.
"I see Michael at training with his young boys, and he can’t go across the road to watch them play, and that becomes hard," Flanagan said.
"From my perspective as his coach, to play your best football in the last two years of your contract is something special. I know the playing group will miss him, but he's got 10 games to go."
Cronulla Sharks CEO Lyall Gorman hoped this wouldn't be the end of Ennis' involvement with the club.
"We're incredibly proud to have Michael as a part of our club on and off the field," he said.
"He's been a remarkable asset, but more importantly, he's made an incredible contribution to the game to so many clubs over the years.
"This is not the end of his involvement in football; we're really hoping that he'll be involved with our club moving forward in some capacity."