Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
5 days ago
Cronulla's Lance Thompson will play his last game of rugby league this weekend with the veteran backrower to hang up the boots due to persistent troubles with his knee.
Thompson was told by Sharks medical officials last week that be only had one more NRL game left in his body, and after being rested for Monday's night's win over South Sydney, will bow out in front of his home fans at a revamped Toyota Stadium against Penrith on Saturday night.
The 30-year-old, who debut for St George against the Sharks as a 17-year-old back in 1995, has played only one NRL match this season, against the Dragons in round four.
But he said the amount of pain in his knee after the match, and his inability to keep up with his young daughter in a backyard kick around convinced him that his time had come.
Sharks coach Ricky Stuart instigated the idea of a home ground farewell, ensuring a full house for the tussle with the Panthers.
"I'd like to thank (Stuart) for giving me that chance to play one more game," Thompson said.
"I was playing soccer with my daughter (Shalisse) last Wednesday in the park and found myself like I couldn't keep up because of the pain in my knee," a teary-eyed Thompson recalled.
"After speaking with my family and Ricky (coach Ricky Stuart) about the pain and discomfort, he was concerned as I was about my long-term health.
"It's been a long six months getting my knee right and getting fit to play again and when this happened the other day I knew it was time to retire.
"There was a time in November, December (last year) when I thought I'd never get on the field again. There was a time in that period as well when I thought I was never going to run properly because of the pain."
After struggling to find form and fitness in the NSW Cup during the early rounds of the season, injury and suspension gave him an opening back into the NRL in round four against the club he bled for so many times, St George Illawarra.
Despite being severely limited by injury, he performed strongly, and was selected to again feature in last Monday night's clash with South Sydney.
But his body wasn't up to it.
"Speaking to our physio, he said (Thompson) probably had one more game left in him in regards to a performance such as the one against St George," Stuart said.
"I don't want to see what Thommo's went through after the St George game in regards getting back up for another game of football happen again.
"You have to see what he goes through day in and day out to understand why he's made this decision.
"I've got to take Lance's welfare into consideration there too. What he did last week to try and be ready for Monday night, he doesn't deserve at this part of his career.
"Whether he plays a good game or a bad game it won't matter to me outside the fact he gets a send off, and I think it's also fair for his supporters here, whether they're Dragons or Sharks, can come along and watch him play."
His retirement and the unavailability of Reece Williams for the rest of the season with a knee injury has left the Sharks short on forward troops, the club going some way to alleviating the problem by picking up prop Danny Nutley, who was cut by the Sydney Roosters just last week.
Given Thompson's retirement and the in-form Sharks returning home for the first time this year, it's sure to be an emotion-charged night at Toyota Stadium.
"I think we're just going to let it go, let all the emotion out," Sharks stand-in skipper Greg Bird said.
"It's going to be a packed house out here after we've won four from five (and we'll) just let the sparks fly and get out and rip in. With Thommo retiring everyone's going to be pumped up for him."
Thompson has played 238 games in the NRL including 37 for the Sharks, 132 for St George Illawarra and 69 for St George, as well as representing City Origin six times.