ST GEORGE Illawarra beat Parramatta at ANZ Stadium last night, but the result didn't mean nearly as much as it normally would in a game of football. League's version of the Fab Four were playing for the last time, and this was about saying goodbye.
The players to the fans - and the fans right back. It's always nice to win - and you would prefer to go out with a victory than a defeat - but the overwhelming theme was one of respect.
Parramatta's Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt and St George Illawarra's Ben Hornby and Dean Young were doing it one last time, and the crowd of 45,863 were appreciating the good bits, and letting the bad bits slide.
All of them one-club players. Hindmarsh, the veteran of 15 years of first grade, with 330 games. Burt, 13 seasons and 264 games. Hornby, 13 years and 273 games. And Young, 10 seasons and 209 games. Hindmarsh, 33 on Friday, Burt, 31, and Hornby, 32, are all around that typical retirement age, but Young is only 28. A chronic knee injury has forced the decision on him.
Hindmarsh, Hornby and Young all played for NSW and Australia, but it's Hindmarsh's career that stands out. He represented NSW 17 times in State of Origin and played 23 Tests for Australia. Burt never made it to either of those levels on the representative ladder but was one of the greatest goalkickers of the modern era.
Hornby and Young won a premiership when Wayne Bennett was at the Dragons in 2010. Hindmarsh and Burt each made it to the grand final twice, in 2001 and 2009, but lost to Newcastle and Melbourne respectively.
But, as impressive as they are, those are just the statistics. Above that, as the overwhelming reason the fans respected them so much, is the fact Hindmarsh, Burt, Hornby and Young gave so much of themselves to their clubs. They never stopped trying and they each delivered well above their fair share of great performances.
Hindmarsh, a wide-roving attacking player as well as a determined defender in his early years, has played in tighter during his closing years, but while his role changed a bit, the level of desperation he showed on the field never moved from the upper limit. If there was a tackle that absolutely had to be made, to save a try, he somehow made it.
Burt was the scorer of 124 tries and kicker of 646 goals and five field goals, for 1793 points. He made his first-grade debut at 17 and looked too small to play with the big boys. But after all those years he was still there last night at the same ground on which he made his debut in 1999.
Hornby was a fullback turned halfback, because the Dragons needed a No.7 at the time. Former coach Bennett said he had found his Dragons version of Darren Lockyer in Hornby. You can't get higher praise than that. Hornby was a great team player and leader.
And, finally, Young. He was a really tough player, just like his father, Dragons great Craig, but emotional just the same. We all saw how much winning a premiership meant to him when he broke down in tears on the sideline after the grand final victory.
Hornby was the only member of the retiring quartet to get among the tries last night. But the biggest cheer of the night was for Hindmarsh, when he kicked a penalty goal as time expired. It was a ripper.