After 14 years, St George Illawarra premiership player Matt Cooper has this morning announced his retirement from the game.
The 34-year-old had been weighing up whether to extend his glittering career into another season, having endured a wretched recent time with injury.
A chronic toe problem kept Cooper sidelined for 12 weeks this, only for the veteran to suffer a season-ending pectoral injury in his return match against Souths.
The 243-game veteran will bid farewell to the Red V faithful in the Dragons' last-round clash against the Warriors alongside Nathan Fien, who co-incidentally debuted in the same round as Cooper (round 1, 2000), and Michael Weyman, who is bound for English Super-League.
The trio's impending exit leaves only Brett Morris, Jason Nightingale, Ben Creagh, Trent Merrin and Matt Prior as survivors from Wayne Bennett's grand final-winning squad three years ago.
‘‘It’s a tough decision, I’ve been playing football since I was four ... it’s been a long career,’’ Cooper said.
‘‘I wouldn’t have wanted to play for any other club but the Dragons, it’s the greatest club in the world.’’
Cooper made his debut in the 2000 season - the team’s first as a joint-venture - and formed part of the so-called 'super six’ alongside Mark Gasnier, Luke Bailey, Trent Barrett, Shaun Timmins and Jason Ryles.
He was also part of the 2010 grand final-winning side under Wayne Bennett - the highlight of his career.
‘‘The club hadn’t won the premiership in 30 years and we’d been close so many times, in 2005, 2006 and 2009,’’ he said.
‘‘To finally win it was a big relief as a lot of people were calling us chokers and to do it for the club and the fans was something special.’’
Cooper's remarkable career included seven Tests for Australia and 13 State Of Origin appearances, while his lone NRL All Stars representative jumper came in 2010.
He will also finish as the joint venture's leading try-scorer (124) and his centre partnership with Mark Gasnier is considered one of the greatest of the NRL era.
St George Illawarra has already lured Culburra junior Dylan Farrell to provide depth in the centres next year, while Charly Runciman, Nathan Green and the off-contract Chase Stanley are also in the mix.
Gerard Beale, who is recovering from a knee reconstruction, is also expected to audition for a berth in the centres to cater for fullback Josh Dugan's four-year contract extension.