Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen is set to play on in 2019, taking his NRL career into a record 19th season.
Fairfax Media can reveal that just two days after turning 37, Gallen has decided against retiring.
In a statement on the Cronulla Sharks website Gallen said next year would definitely be his last.
“I said earlier in the week that I was close to making a decision on my playing future and after discussions with the Club and with our Coach Shane Flanagan I have made the call,” Gallen said on sharks.com.au
“While we still have some big games to go in 2018 and finishing this season on a positive note is our main focus, hopefully with another Grand Final appearance, I can now confirm that I will be playing on in 2019.
“Plenty of people quote my age and the fact that I was 37 earlier in the week, however the body feels good, training is still something I look forward to and the feedback from the coach and those that matter, say my contribution to the team on game day is strong.
“I've always said age and my birth certificate would never make this decision for me if everything I've explained above was in order.
“And personally, I believe I've got plenty left to give, which has ultimately led me to make this decision.
“If I play 15 games or 25 games next year, while winning is the main aim, part of my role will also be to bring through and to help develop the next crop of talented young players at our Club, as I've tried to do in recent years and as I'll continue to do.
“As for the terms and the contract, I'll sit down with the Club at the end of the year and sort out the details, but at this stage we're concentrating on the Cowboys first, then the big games we have coming up after that.
“I can say that 2019 will be my last season, I now have an end date and with the talent we have here at the Sharks I am confident this year and next can be successful for myself and the Cronulla Club.”
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has consistently said he would welcome Gallen's decision to go around again given his form over the first 22 rounds.
While the Sharks ironman's minutes have dropped this year, the former NSW captain has still averaged 133m per game, the seventh most of any forward in the league, according to Fox Sports Stats.
The decision is likely to be met with approval from Cronulla players and fans.
Speaking earlier this week, fellow forwards Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham welcomed the prospect of Gallen playing on.
“He played well on the weekend, he’s playing good footy,” Graham said.
“Everyone has been asking the question [about his future] for the past three years and he just keeps going. We’ll learn that in time.
“If he’s playing good footy - he ran almost 200 metres on the weekend and topped our tackle count - he was one of the best middles out there.
“The performance on the weekend, you don’t need to worry about. It’s whether he can go through another year, another pre-season, another marathon of an NRL season. Only 'Galza' can answer that question. Only time will tell.”
Fifita said Gallen was defying Father Time.
“He won’t tell us [his age] ... 46? 45? He’s the same age as Flanno and still going strong,” Fifita quipped.
“I’m happy for the big boy, he’s still around. For me, I wouldn’t mind to see him [go on], he’s still performing on the field. Age is just a number.”
Gallen is the current co-holder, along with fellow Sharks great Andrew Ettingshausen and teammate Luke Lewis, for most seasons in the NRL with 18.
However he will move past both of them should he step onto a field in 2019.
Gallen has played 321 games for Cronulla since debuting in 2001 and captained the side to their first premiership in 2016.
With three games and a finals series to go this year, another season will give Gallen a chance at break through the 350-game barrier.
Cameron Smith (379), Darren Lockyer (355) and Terry Lamb (350) are the only three players to achieve the milestone.
Sydney Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk (343) will join the elite club either in the grand final should the Roosters play four finals games and make it through to the season decider or in early 2019.
Heading into Saturday's clash with North Queensland, the Sharks are well entrenched in the race for a second premiership in three years in sixth spot.
Should the Sharks lift the Provan-Summons trophy, Gallen will become the oldest player in 96 years to be crowned a premiership winner.
The Sharks skipper will be 37 years, one month and 16 days old on grand final day on September 30.
According to League Information Services, George Green - who was 38 years, eight months and 20 days when he won the 1922 NSWRL decider with North Sydney - is the oldest-known premiership winner.
Gallen would slot in behind Green if the Sharks are successful.
Since debuting in 2001, Gallen has made 50,938m - an average of 159m per game. It's believed to be an all-time league record.
Australian Associated Press, Fairfax Media