Retirees list for 2018 to be greatest ever: 4000 games of experience
An unprecedented eight triple-centurions and more than 4000 games worth of NRL experience are expected to call time in the most decorated retiring class rugby league has seen.
Four-time Dally M medallist Johnathan Thurston leads the march, with his 317 first-grade games, 37 Origins and 38 Tests marking the Cowboys skipper as an Immortal in waiting.
Those who are now confirmed to join Thurston are fellow 300-gamers Billy Slater, Ryan Hoffman, Chris Heighington and Luke Lewis, while Broncos larrikin Sam Thaiday and Warriors icon Simon Mannering are on the verge of one of the game's most exclusive club.
The future of another triple centurion Paul Gallen has been a particular focus throughout the year, with Cronulla understood to have to set aside salary cap space to accommodate the club legend should he play on in 2019.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said that Gallen was ''leaning on the side of playing again'' in 2019 but tipped another Cronulla title this year would see his captain bow out at the top.
Veteran Newcastle forward Jacob Lillyman has also confirmed 2018 will be his last campaign after 15 seasons in the top grade along with Dragons winger Jason Nightingale.
July 17: Lewis calls it a day
July 25: Winterstein hangs up his boots
July 31: Heighington to finish at season's end
August 7: Lillyman officially announces retirement
August 8: Slater won't go around again in 2019
August 9: Nightingale to fly off into the sunset
Injuries have already cut short the NRL careers of Beau Scott (Eels) and Penrith pair Peter Wallace and Tim Browne this season, with the trio joined by Cowboys premiership-winner Antonio Winterstein recently, a persistent knee issue forcing him into early retirement after 214 games.
The retirees confirmed for this year's grand final farewell account for more than 3800 first-grade games, 180 Origins and 200 Tests for Australia, New Zealand, England, Samoa and Scotland, as well as many Dally M and Clive Churchill medals, Golden Boots and other individual accolades.
Before a ball was kicked in 2018, most would have had recently united Wests Tigers pair Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah on the above list as well.
The farewell tours for at least one of the prodigal sons may have to be postponed yet, with both old-stagers in impressive touch since returning to Concord and the possibility of one-year extensions for either player still being weighed up by the Tigers.
Farah and Marshall boast more than 500 NRL games between them, plus a combined 38 Tests for Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon.
Super League's new marquee player allowance has also resulted in a rise in NRL signings for next year, with Joseph Paulo moving from Cronulla to St Helens and taking some 164 NRL games and 12 Tests for Samoa and the USA with him.
He joins former NSW and Australian Test flyer Akuila Uate (200 NRL games, five Origins and 20 Tests for the Kangaroos and Fiji Bati) in the UK from 2019, as well as Jason Clark (161 first grade games), Ricky Leutele (121), Blake Austin (116) and Tuimoala Lolohea (71).
That contingent tallies up over 800 NRL games between them, with another 400-plus first-grade games and 42 Tests for New Zealand to follow given Super League looks the most likely avenue for veterans Lewis Brown (Manly) and Greg Eastwood (Canterbury) to continue their careers.
While several high-profile retirees are locked in, with the usual late season upheaval likely to swell the total amount of experience leaving the game to record levels, there are a few stars on the wrong side of 30 with their futures sorted.
Storm skipper Cameron Smith is currently negotiating a new deal that will put him in touching distance of 400 career games.
The Morris twins Brett and Josh will carry on for another two years at the Roosters and Cronulla, while John Sutton and Jarryd Hayne are also expected to earn contract extensions for 2019 at the Rabbitohs and Eels.
Previous high water retiring cohorts include the class of 2013 – when Danny Buderus, Scott Prince and Matt Bowen called it a day, and 2012 – when Nathan Hindmarsh, Petero Civoniceva and Ben Hornby finished up glittering NRL careers.