Veteran winger Lote Tuqiri says he’s still to decide whether to play on next year after helping South Sydney win the NRL premiership.
He’s joined the likes Des Hasler, Mick Cronin and John Ferguson in winning a grand final at the age of 35, and now Lote Tuqiri has to decide whether to go around for another season in the NRL next year.
The veteran winger admitted to being “gobsmacked” after helping South Sydney win their first premiership in 43 years with a 30-6 win over Canterbury on an emotional day at ANZ Stadium.
The former dual international looked certain to hang up his boots less than two months ago when he was toiling away in the NSW Cup with the North Sydney Bears.
But after being recalled for the Rabbitohs’ 50-10 win over Newcastle in round 21, he kept his place in the team and now has a second premiership ring – 14 years after his first with Brisbane.
“I never thought this would happen, never in a million years,” Tuqiri said.
“This time last year, I was playing rugby in Ireland.”
The Rabbitohs’ premiership success bookends an outstanding career for the Fiji-born wideman, who burst onto the scene with the Broncos in 1999 before spending six years playing rugby with the NSW Waratahs and the Wallabies.
His last appearance in a final at ANZ Stadium was in the 2003 Rugby World Cup decider, when he scored the opening try of the game only for England to fight back to win in extra-time.
“I’ve been a bridesmaid here a few times but tonight was unbelievable, I am gobsmacked,” he said.
“It would be close to the best moment of my career. I didn’t appreciate it too much in 2000. I was a young bloke. I just thought I would win three or four more.”
After being shown the door by the Wests Tigers at the end of last year, Tuqiri’s career looked certain to wind down with a final pay day with short stint with Irish rugby powerhouse Leinster.
But after returning to Australia in January, he was thrown a lifeline by Souths coach Michael Maguire, who signed him on to a one-year deal.
“I never saw this happening when I arrived. I am part of a winning premiership team – again,” Tuqiri said.
“It’s South Sydney, all the history, the fans they make you feel part of the South Sydney movement – it’s great.”
Tuqiri more than vindicated Maguire’s decision to recall him with six tries in the last nine games of the season to help propel the Rabbitohs to their 21st premiership.
“At times I didn’t think I would get this chance, but said to a few other blokes, `when I do, I am not going to let it go’,” he said.
“I don’t think I did that.”
Maguire hinted after the game he’d like Tuqiri to stick around next year, but the former Queensland star said there’d been no discussions about a new deal.
“I still feel good physically and mentally, but there is a real temptation to go out on a high,” he said.
“This doesn’t happen a lot to guys my age. You get told by a lot of people that it’s a good way to go out. But the other train of thought is that you are a long time retired.
“I’ll just sit back and think about it over the next week.”
THE OLDEST PLAYERS TO WIN A NRL GRAND FINAL * Ken Kearney, St George, 36 years and 123 days (1960)
* John Ferguson, Canberra, 36 years and 70 days 1990)
* Des Hasler, Manly, 35 years and 225 days (1996)
* Billy Wilson, St George, 35 years and 108 days (1962)
* Ken Kearney, St George, 35 years and 103 days (1959)
* Jim Craig, Wests, 35 years and 97 days (1930)
* Michael Cronin, Parramatta, 35 years and 92 days (1986)
* John Ferguson, Canberra, 35 years and 71 days (1989)
* Lote Tuqiri, Souths, 35 years and 12 days (2014)