Retiring Wests Tigers veteran Dene Halatau says he wasn't expecting Sunday's loss to Canberra to be his last NRL game but now that it's all over, is looking to spending some more time with his young family.
Halatau also had some very high praise for close mate Robbie Farah, who was also given a touching send-off by the Leichhardt faithful on Sunday afternoon before departing to an as-yet-unspecified new club next year.
While Farah's departure has been acrimonious at times in terms of the club and coach, both he and Halatau – who has been stuck in the middle somewhat as the man filling in for Farah on the field – will be fondly remembered by fans.
"I count him as the best Wests Tiger to play and wear the jersey so it was a great honour playing alongside him for so many years," Halatau said of his fellow 2005 premiership-winner.
"We've had some really good memories together and gone through some tough times as well together and he's held himself really well and we're really close mates.
"This year, I've got no doubts it's been a tough year for him but I found myself in the middle of it somewhat through no fault of my own but he's been great to me and we're talking constantly and our friendship's still sat above everything and we know there's definitely no hard feelings between us so our friendship will continue for a long time; we'll be mates for life."
Two legends farewelled today.— Wests Tigers (@WestsTigers) September 4, 2016
Thanks for everything. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/1fm6D5HSmL
Halatau was given a guard of honour at the start of the game as he walked out with his young daughter on his shoulder and the rest of his family at the ground and he said it is a moment that will stay with him – despite his disappointment at the 52-10 loss to Canberra on the day.
"It's been a bit weird, I didn't come here thinking it was going to be all done," Halatau told NRL.com.
"I kind of expected us to put in a better performance than that and really have a crack at the finals but it wasn't to be. They showed us the way to play and we gifted them the ball a lot and made it really hard on ourselves."
Despite his disappointment at not playing finals to finish, Halatau praised the Leichhardt faithful for their support both on Sunday and over the years.
"It's my favourite place to play, Sunday arvos at Leichhardt Oval. It's where I started and it's where I finish. It was an awesome crowd and an awesome build-up," he said.
"The excitement was there but obviously the disappointment of the result overrides that a bit but it's done now, we can't really change it. I look forward to relaxing in the next couple of days and just enjoying the company of the boys."
Halatau's young family will also benefit from having him around more.
"My eldest girl (Tayla) will definitely look back and remember when dad played first grade footy and that's really important to me," he said.
"My youngest (Payton), she's not quite aware of what's going on, she just knows there's people around but that was really important and obviously having my wife (Rochelle) there at the sideline at the start and the end of the game and my mum and my dad and my brother and sister, it's a big reason why I play the game is for my family so it was great having them there.
"They get me for the weekends now and they get me stress free. Everything sort of revolves around game day through your career, you do all the prep and I'm always fairly quiet on game day and I know that's pretty tough on the wife and the kids when dad gets into a bit of a mood, but I look forward to having those weekends free and being able to unwind and relax and not having to stress too much about games."
Halatau also had belief that he was going out with the club in a good position to build and improve for the future.
"I've got a lot of belief in the group and if they continue to work and build on what has happened the last couple of months and there's no doubt in my mind the next couple of years will prove pretty successful," he said. "I'll be there supporting the boys and I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do."