Without a doubt, Jason Nightingale will be remembered as one of St George Illawarra’s modern greats.
The man affectionately known as Gypsy announced on Thursday his plans to retire at the end of his 12th NRL season as a one-club man.
A St George junior with Renown United, Nightingale has enjoyed a career most elite players can only dream of. At 31-years-old, Nightingale has just about done it all in the red V.
He has played 265 games for St George Illawarra scoring 110 tries including two in the 2010 grand final victory over the Sydney Roosters, his career highlight.
Nightingale is the last surviving member of that premiership-winning side. He also helped the Dragons win the 2011 World Club Challenge and played 33 Tests for New Zealand.
He first pulled on the famous red V as a 15-year-old, representing St George in the Harold Matthews and SG Ball competitions from 2002 to 2004.
It’s something I’m very privileged to do for so long. A lot of people have been part of that journey.Jason Nightingale
Nightingale even scored a try against Penrith in his first grade debut early on in the 2007 season at Jubilee Oval.
“It’s something I’m very privileged to do for so long. A lot of people have been part of that journey. Ever since I was in the juniors and coming up playing junior reps, having people be part of my career that have been so influential,” Nightingale said.
“I’d like to thank all those people. Supporters, fans, my family, obviously my wife Bianka and daughter and soon to be son in a couple of weeks, for everything they’ve done for myself to make sure that I’ve been able to do this and have the career that I’ve had.
“When I do reflect on my career I’ve achieved a lot more than personally to be honest I thought I was going to do. When I came in I tried to model [myself] a lot on consistency and found a lot of motivation in not wanting to let people down. That’s something I’m proud of myself being able to do.”
He is also part of an exclusive club of players who have featured in 250 NRL games, scored more than 100 tries, played more than 30 Tests and won a premiership. Its members are Billy Slater, Darren Lockyer, Brad Fittler ... and Nightingale.
If any further proof was required to evidence Nightingale’s stature at the Dragons, the winger has won every single award at the club’s end of year presentation.
Nightingale won the prestigious Dragons Medal as player of the year in 2011 along with the Immortals Trophy. He won the Geoff Selby Memorial Trophy and Red V Members player of the year twice each as well as the Community Involvement Award in 2012.
Nightingale also won the Mark Coyne Trophy for career development in 2014, reflected in his establishment of the Elite Athlete Business School.
But Nightingale’s career is not done just yet with St George Illawarra still in contention for the premiership. A second title would be a dream finish for the reliable winger.
“It’s an emotional time for me and Jason and the club really,” Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.
“We go back to 2006 when I was performance manager here and Jason was just a young man learning his trade. Made his debut the year after and I’ve seen a young man grow into a great father, great husband, great mentor for all our junior players coming through.
“He knows the fabric of the club and he typifies that every time he goes on the football field.
“He’ll be missed. With his career we haven’t seen many better. The journey Jason takes next will be a successful one because he’s a successful man. He’s a strong person of good character. We’ve still got a few games to go yet.”
Dragons CEO Peter Doust also congratulated Nightingale on his career.
“It’s a special day though. I think Jason epitomises the Dragons’ creed. He’s a guy that’s come through our pathway from one of our junior clubs. He’s represented everywhere and represented us off the field with distinction,” he said.
“He’s a person of many qualities and skills and we’ll sadly miss him. If you think about the tries, the games, the things he’s done for rugby league and all our clubs, Renown United, St George Football Club and then St George Illawarra, he’s a truly special person and we’re very proud.”