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2021 retiring class: Thousands of games in experience saying farewell

Thousands of games' worth of experience will depart the NRL at the end of the season with some of the code's most revered players calling time on their careers.

Raiders prop Sia Soliola announced his retirement in September after 17 years and 229 NRL games and 117 Super League appearances.

The 35-year-old, one of the game's true good guys who won the Ken Stephen Medal in 2019, debuted for the Roosters in 2005 and went on to represent New Zealand and Samoa at Test level.

After a five-year stint in the UK with St Helens, he joined Canberra in 2015 and was a key member of their 2019 grand final team.

Parramatta winger Blake Ferguson has indicated that his time in the NRL is over with the 31-year-old to switch codes to rugby union.

A 2018 premiership winner, Ferguson played 249 first-grade games for the Sharks, Raiders, Roosters and Eels.

Leeson Ah Mau, who represented the Warriors, Cowboys and Dragons in a 223-game career, has also finished his time in the NRL.

So too Dale Copley, with the Broncos, Roosters and Titans outside back bowing out after a mid-season return to the Tricolours.

Others who will be celebrated on grand final day include Dragons and Panthers forward Trent Merrin, Broncos and Cowboys winger Jordan Kahu and Kiwi Ferns champion Honey Hireme-Smiler.

Sharks veteran Josh Dugan has called time on his 215-game NRL adventure, which began with the Raiders in 2009 and led to the former Dragon representing NSW and Australia.

Roosters centre Josh Morris completed his storied career as his team bowed out in the second week of the finals against the Sea Eagles.

Morris debuted for St George Illawarra in 2007, going on to play for the Bulldogs and Sharks before joining the Tricolours in 2020.

He is the latest champion Rooster to retire after Jake Friend (264 games), brother Brett Morris (276 games) and Boyd Cordner (181 games) all bid a premature farewell due to injuries.

Their legacies of excellence are cemented in history with Friend and Cordner skippering the Tricolours to back-to-back titles in 2018-19 and Morris having scored the fourth most tries of all time, touching down an astounding 176 times in 276 matches.

Let's tackle this together

Storm legend Cameron Smith will be recognised in the farewell celebrations after the Immortal-in-waiting officially announced his retirement in March.

The 430-game hooker, regarded as one of the best players ever, fittingly went out a winner as Melbourne won the 2020 title.

Nicho Hynes - Yarning Circle

Cowboys 2015 premiership hero Michael Morgan was another whose career was prematurely ended with the playmaker retiring on medical grounds in April because of a chronic shoulder injury.

His former club, state and national teammate Justin O'Neill has also called it quits, announcing prior to round 24 he was retiring due to a chronic knee injury.

The dual premiership-winning Cowboys centre has battled knee injuries for much of the later years of his career, but it has now deteriorated to the point where he can no longer take the field.

And Knights halfback Blake Green – one of the NRL's most respected journeymen, who played for seven Telstra Premiership clubs – walked away in May as he felt his body could no longer perform to his usual standard.

Green will coach Newcastle's inaugural NRLW team.

Wests Tigers prop Russell Packer, Titans winger Anthony Don, Broncos captain Alex Glenn and Kiwi great Issac Luke are others who have confirmed the 2021 season will be their last.

Packer, 31, who made his NRL debut in 2008, will retire with 184 first-grade games to his name, the last 33 for Wests Tigers.

The representative prop played 110 games for New Zealand Warriors and featured 41 times for the St George-Illawarra Dragons, before joining the Tigers in 2018. 

Don will exit as the most prolific try-scorer in his club's history, having crossed the stripe 85 times in 152 matches, while Glenn is the fourth-most capped player in Brisbane's proud history.

Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck left the NRL in July, returning home to beat New Zealand's border closures as he embarks on a new journey in rugby union with the goal of becoming an All Black.

Aged 28, it's possible we haven't seen the last of RTS in the NRL, but regardless, the fleet-footed fullback will be remembered as one of the most brilliant and influential players of his generation.

Former Rabbitohs, Warriors, Dragons and Broncos hooker Luke confirmed in September that he won't add to his 286 NRL games.

The 43-time Kiwi international played for Brisbane in 2020 and played for Wynnum Manly in the Intrust Super Cup this year.

What’s the weirdest thing in a teammate's kit?

A host of players are yet to decide whether they'll continue their playing days, either in the NRL or overseas, or hang up the boots.

Heading that list is beloved 35-year-old Rabbitohs utility Benji Marshall, who is currently the competition's oldest player.

Meanwhile, other players like Sharks Aiden Tolman and Will Chambers, Sea Eagles hitman Jorge Taufua and Dragons playmaker Corey Norman haven't hinted at retirement but are still unsigned for 2022 at this stage.

Some may find a home in the English Super League, where Bulldogs outside back Will Hopoate will move next season.

Hopoate, 29, has played more than 180 NRL games and recently announced he had signed with St Helens.

A pair of former NRL favourites, James Maloney and Joel Thompson, will retire from elite football after the Super League season is done.

The departing class of 2021

  • Boyd Cordner (Sydney Roosters)
  • Jake Friend (Sydney Roosters)
  • Brett Morris (Sydney Roosters)
  • Josh Morris (Sydney Roosters)
  • Cameron Smith (Melbourne Storm)
  • Blake Green (Newcastle Knights)
  • Michael Morgan (North Queensland Cowboys)
  • Anthony Don (Gold Coast Titans)
  • Alex Glenn (Brisbane Broncos)
  • Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand Warriors)
  • Will Hopoate (Canterbury Bulldogs)
  • Justin O'Neill (North Queensland Cowboys)
  • Russell Packer (Wests Tigers)
  • Josh Dugan (Cronulla Sharks)
  • Issac Luke (uncontracted)
  • Blake Ferguson (Parramatta Eels)
  • Sia Soliola (Canberra Raiders)
  • Trent Merrin (St George Illawarra Dragons)
  • Dale Copley (Sydney Roosters)
  • Jordan Kahu (Brisbane Broncos)
  • Leeson Ah Mau (New Zealand Warriors)
  • Honey Hireme-Smiler (NRLW)
  • Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters)

Decisions pending

  • Benji Marshall (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
  • Karmichael Hunt (Brisbane Broncos)
  • Jorge Taufua (Manly Sea Eagles)
  • Corey Norman (St George Illawarra Dragons)
  • James Roberts (Wests Tigers)
  • Joey Leilua (Wests Tigers)
  • Gerard Beale (St George Illawarra Dragons)
  • Ben Te'o (Brisbane Broncos)
  • Will Chambers (Cronulla Sharks)
  • Aiden Tolman (Cronulla Sharks)
  • Mitch Rein (Gold Coast Titans)
Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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