ILLAWARRA COAL LEAGUE
Thirroul veteran Jamie Feeney hopes to draw the curtain on a stellar career by finally capturing a premiership which has eluded him since making his debut in the NRL 15 years ago.
It's become part of rugby league folklore that a 22-year-old Johnathan Thurston selflessly gave Canterbury captain Steve Price his premiership ring in the euphoria of the Bulldogs 2004 grand final victory.
What is not as well remembered is that it was Thurston edged out Feeney for a place on the Bulldogs bench in the wake of the knee injury which ruled Price out of the match.
"I warmed up and didn't play," Feeney recalled.
"Pricey was out and Johnno was 18th [man] and I was 19th. We trained all week and then he got the nod on the night and good on him. The rest is history."
Now 36 and at the end of a remarkable second coming as a player, Feeney is looking to make the most of his final 80 minutes and finally snare that elusive ring.
"I haven't played in a lot of grand finals as a senior footballer so I'm looking forward to Sunday," Feeney said.
"The real reason I played was to meet people down here.
"I didn't know anyone besides family so I've ticked that box, had a great year and I feel like I'm part of the furniture at the club now. Hopefully we finish it off really well and it'll be a great way to go out."
A victory in Sunday's grand final would put an exclamation point on a comeback that seemed unlikely when serious back problems brought a premature end to his NRL career with Melbourne in 2007 at just 28 years of age.
"It wasn't the finish I was after in Melbourne and having to retire and give it up," Feeney said.
"I coached for five years and then three years ago I was coaching at Erina and we were a couple of troops short for a trial. I had a run there and just fell in love with playing again."
After recapturing the love for playing the game, Feeney's troublesome back has again caught up with him and will end his playing career after Sunday's match this time - he insists - for good.
"Rugby league's given me a lot but it's also given me a couple of injuries," Feeney said.
"My back's pretty bad and the first two or three days after a game it's really bad and hard to bear so that's why I'm hanging them up. I think it's the body telling me it's time to give it up."
Erina fell one point short of claiming the premiership with Feeney at the helm last year meaning Sunday will be his last throw of the premiership dice but he's confident the Butchers can get it done.
"We've a got a great team and we're playing some great footy so hopefully we can put together and I'll go out on the right note."