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 have called 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.
Joining Thurston in retirement are fellow 300-gamers Billy Slater, Ryan Hoffman, Chris Heighington, Luke Lewis, Broncos larrikin Sam Thaiday and Warriors icon Simon Mannering.
Veteran Newcastle forward Jacob Lillyman has also finished his last campaign after 15 seasons in the top grade along with Dragons winger Jason Nightingale.
Injuries 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 before the regular season ended, 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.
Thurston, Lewis, Mannering, Heighington, Thaiday will be part of the tribute on grand final day. Slater and Hoffman, who are in the Melbourne Storm squad, will also be acknowledged.
Other players who will be part of the retiring players Class for 2018 are: Jonathan Wright (Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles), Peter Wallace, Tim Browne (Penrith Panthers), Antonio Winterstein (North Queensland Cowboys), Beau Scott (Parramatta Eels), Jacob Lillyman (Newcastle Knights), Joseph Paulo (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Brenton Lawrence (Gold Coast Titans), Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra), Frank-Paul Nuuausala (Sydney Roosters) and Jason Clark (South Sydney Rabbitohs).
Before a ball was kicked in 2018, most would have had Wests Tigers pair Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah on the above list as well.
The farewell tours for the prodigal sons were postponed, with both players inking one-year deals with the club for 2019.
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 more than 800 NRL games between them, with another 400-plus first-grade games and 42 Tests.
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 still yet to officially sign 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.