Matt Ballin announces retirement
Wests Tigers hooker Matt Ballin admits a series of knee injuries in the past three seasons got the better of him with the veteran announcing his immediate retirement on Monday.
The 33-year-old was restricted to just three appearances since joining the Wests Tigers last year and after a season-ending knee ACL injury in 2016, Ballin suffered a torn meniscus to the other knee in his comeback in April against St George Illawarra in what proved to be the final game of his career.
Prior to the move from Manly, the former Queensland representative played 217 NRL games on the Northern Beaches – including an incredible 182 consecutive games – and won two premierships in 2008 and 2011.
An emotional Ballin told Wests Tigers teammates of the decision before the announcement was made on Monday.
"It's probably the most emotional I've been in the last six to eight weeks, just formalising your retirement and telling your teammates – the guys you spend training with from October each year," Ballin said.
"With the whole process of playing with them, you become quite attached emotionally – it's the most difficult thing I've ever had to do."
After a decade in the top grade and a willingness to get back onto the paddock in 2017, Ballin said the reality was yet to sink in that he had called it quits.
Despite back-to-back knee reconstructions, it was the final knee injury on the opposite leg that led to the decision.
"My mind will always want me to play footy because I love it and the challenges and friendships you make and the opportunities as footy players we have," he said.
"But in the end my body didn't let me do what I wanted it to and that's play rugby league.
"The right knee had that injury [against the Dragons] and just can't handle running now. I'll run one day and the next I can't do what I need to, so that's what has caused me to finish up.
"Physically it has been challenging and mentally as well. The first knee reconstruction and then the second one, then finally injuring my other knee this year just took away from how I wanted to play the game.
"My game was based on 80 minutes of footy just tackling hard and distributing well and I couldn't do that over the last 18 months. It's a good time to tell them and now the club can move forward."
While the on-field memories at the Wests Tigers will be short-lived, there is no doubting his influence off the paddock has been most valuable since the move to Concord.
However Ballin's biggest mark on the game was ultimately where it all began, at the Sea Eagles.
The Kingaroy junior joined the club in 2005 from the Brisbane Broncos and made his NRL Telstra Premiership debut under Des Hasler in 2007, while he played second fiddle behind Queensland captain Cameron Smith at representative level.
"If I look at my career before those knee injuries, I played 182 games straight and over 200 for Manly, so I was really blessed to have that time playing consistent footy," Ballin said.
"It's not the way anyone wants to go out… Steve Menzies [retired] in 2008 going out with a premiership and you picture it like that or going out on your terms and still playing good footy.
"I guess you could look at it two ways – I've been lucky or really unlucky. If I thought I would have played over 200 games as a kid and won a couple of premierships, met the great people I have – I would have never thought that was possible so I'm lucky."
Having spent majority of time away from the game, Ballin is continuing his steps to become a full-time high school teacher after finishing with a major in physical education.
"I studied an education degree and have been doing some practical work now with a school on the Northern Beaches, so that will be me in the future, I have a passion for educating and helping kids," he said.
"I'd still love to be involved in footy in some capacity, I'm not sure what yet, but I've always wanted to teach so that's what I'll move onto."